Pandemic slows progress of narrowing leadership gap


August 30, 2021

1 min read


Bankes J. Journey to the C-suite: Navigating a career in a male dominated industry. Presented at: Women in Ophthalmology Summer Symposium; Aug. 26-29, 2021; Amelia Island, Florida.

Bankes reports being president and general manager of global surgical franchise for Alcon.

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It is not for a lack of numbers of women in the workforce that accounts for the substantial leadership gap between men and women.

In the U.S., women make up 47% of the labor force and 52% of all professional level jobs, while representing only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs, a “staggering” number, Jeannette Bankes said in a keynote presentation at the Women in Ophthalmology Summer Symposium.

In health care, the gap is wide. Women comprise 34.3% of all physicians and surgeons but only 15.9% of medical school deans.

Furthermore, “There’s not a single female med device CEO and depending on the denominator, meaning the size of the business, there’s not a female CEO running an over $5 billion company within our space,” Bankes, who is president and general manager of global surgical franchise for Alcon, said.

There has been progress in the corporate pipeline. At the start of 2020, white women and women of color represented 21% of C-suite positions, a 22% increase 5 years, Bankes said in the presentation.

“We are making progress, but how long is it going to take us?” she asked.

The impact of COVID-19 has slowed the trajectory.

“Mothers are more likely than fathers to take a step back and say the world has changed. We’ve just lived through and are still living through a pandemic, and how do women relate to that? The reality is, we’re the ones saying we need to reduce our work hours on average, we have to switch to less demanding jobs,” Bankes said. “This doesn’t help with the acceleration of women in leadership positions.”

Comparing LGBTQ women, women with disabilities and women of color, the numbers are even “more alarming,” Bankes said, with only 3% of women of color populating the C-suite in corporate America.

“So what do we do, self and collectively, to allow more women in leadership positions?” she asked.

The answer: Lean in.

“Don’t ever be afraid to ask for something,” she said. “You have to cultivate yourself.”


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