It’s common to hear positive stories about how leaders rose in the ranks to the executive suite. But not all leadership journeys are easy. Tiffany A. Love, Ph.D., regional chief nursing officer for Coastal Health Care Alliance, will discuss her own bumpy road to the C-suite at The 3rd Annual RISE National Women in Health Care Leadership Summit , April 29-30, in San Diego. RISE talked to Love ahead of the conference about her thoughts on leadership development, diversity, and the need for women to support one another.

Dr. Tiffany A. Love is a Ph.D. and holds numerous credentials. She serves as the regional chief nursing officer for Coastal Health Care Alliance and the chair of the board of directors for the Health Care Diversity Council. But her path to the C-suite was not an easy one and she plans to share her story at the upcoming 3rd Annual RISE National Women in Health Care Leadership Summit to help encourage women not to let failures hold them back from pursuing leadership roles.

“The reason I have decided to talk about this issue is because I have found people will very quickly tell you positive stories about how they’ve risen to the ranks of the executive suite. But often if you have a chance to know these leaders personally you’ll learn many of their experiences were not so great, and there were times in their lives they didn’t think they’d make it to the executive suite,” Love told RISE.

Those bumps and challenges often serve as lessons that will help women become great leaders, she says.

"It’s really driven my mission and vision for my career to help support and develop diverse healthcare executives. I consult with women trying to get to the next level of leadership and confront the challenges they may have encountered through my own experience of overcoming barriers to get to the executive suite,” Love says.

And there are a lot of barriers. Research shows that approximately 87 percent of white males make up the executive suite and many organizations have no racial, ethnic or gender diversity on their leadership teams, according to Love.

"Why are women not getting the opportunity to lead? When you look at the statistics, you realize that almost half of the people graduating within graduate-level programs are women. So, you can’t say we don’t have enough educated women in the pipeline. For whatever reason, they aren’t given the opportunity,” she says.

How to overcome barriers to promotions 

The biggest challenge that women face is that Caucasian men will typically select Caucasian men for promotional opportunities. “They pick someone most like themselves,” Love says. “That is part of the barrier into the executive suite. Research also shows that if there is a pool of candidates with one or two women and the rest are men, there is a low probability that the women will be selected.”

Women have a better opportunity to be promoted when they have a male mentor, she says. The #MeToo movement may make some men reluctant to mentor women, but Love says it’s important to change those attitudes because both men and women have something to gain from mentor relationships.

“We need to educate men that promoting women or working closely with a woman doesn’t mean you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position for complaints of harassment. It’s more important we educate executive leaders of what is acceptable behavior and what is not. In many organizations there has been a culture where it’s okay to make sexist jokes, or they don’t realize there is not gender equity, or they realize there is a problem and they don’t know where to start to fix it. Part of the solution is to promote women in leadership so it’s not all men and one woman on the board. We need more diversity in the executive suite,” she says.

Her advice to help women overcome these barriers: If women are in a management position, Love suggests they ask senior leaders for permission to develop a program to mentor and sponsor women. The number one way to bridge the gender gap is to create a program where women can be mentored and sponsored, she says.

She also encourages women to support one another. “Madeleine K. Albright once said 'there is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.' Back in the day there was the perception that there was room for only one woman at the table. There was a lot of competition to be that one woman at the table. But there is opportunity for more than one woman to have a seat at the table,” she says.

Love says women must speak positively about each other and promote each other.  “Regardless of how bad things may get, I really think women shouldn’t speak badly of other women. Even if you don’t like someone. When we speak badly of other women, it perpetuates gender inequity and is an excuse for organizations not to promote other women. You rarely hear men talk about other men in this way,” she says.

That’s why Love believes it’s so important for women to attend The 3rd Annual RISE National Women in Health Care Leadership Summit, April 29-30, where they can learn from one another. “It’s an opportunity for women to connect with one another, support one another and build relationships. It’s a place we can go to support and lift each other. We need to take advantage anytime there is an opportunity to congratulate women and bring attention to their accomplishments. I do it and I encourage others to do the same,” she says.