Special Topic | Women in the healthcare sector

The glass ceiling in the healthcare sector in the capital region is getting thinner. More and more women are finding their way into leadership positions. In order to reduce the inequalities that still exist further, stakeholders in the healthcare sector support women in the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan region with networks, mentoring programs and a reduced gender pay gap.


The healthcare sector is predominantly female. However, this does not (yet) apply to its management levels. Even though, according to a study by the consulting firm PwC, more than 75 per cent of all employees in the sector are female, the situation is clearly different when it comes to managerial positions: At 29 per cent, less than one in three management positions is held by a woman, and in top management only one in six positions is held by a woman (17 per cent).  

According to a study by the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa), the situation is somewhat different in the pharmaceutical industry – there the proportion of women in middle management is 55 percent. The gender pay gap in the pharmaceutical industry is also slightly smaller than the national average for all professions: Instead of 14.5 percent, women here earn an average of 12 percent less than their male colleagues.  


Support for women in the capital region 

In the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan region, women in the healthcare sector can now find several initiatives, networks and contacts from business and science whose aim is to support, network and encourage women and to close the gender pay gap. “There is still a lot to do,” agrees this year’s winner of the Berlin Women’s Prize, Professor Dr. Mandy Mangler. The prize has been awarded to women for their forward-looking commitment since 1987 on the suggestion of citizens. Although the prize is not industry-specific, women from the healthcare sector are always on the list – such as Mandy Mangler, who heads both gynecology and obstetrics at the Vivantes Auguste-Viktoria-Klinik in Neukölln as Head physician.  

“In everyday life you fail because of the quantitative majority of men or people who do not think about family. You have to keep asserting yourself against them. That is relatively strenuous,” says Mangler. It is helpful, for example, if a company is certified as family-friendly. “There are certain conditions associated with this that improve the situation for working women and families.”  

According to Mangler, women in Berlin also find support from the German Association of Women Doctors, professional associations and through the commitment of individuals who deal with the topic. The Medical Association in Berlin also organizes events. According to Mandy Mangler, there are also several Head physician networks – both within hospital groups, specialist societies or professional associations and outside of fixed structures.  


At Mangler’s employer – the hospital operator Vivantes – the proportion of women in leadership positions is now well above the national average: The proportion of women in Head physician positions has risen from 14.9 percent in 2017 to 24.9 percent in 2021. “We were even able to increase the proportion of nursing directors from around 33 to around 66 percent in the same period,” explains Vivantes spokesman Christoph Lang. The increase in proportion is a result of the Vivantes women’s promotion plan, which also included a mentoring program for female doctors. “Well-networked Head physicians advise and accompany their young colleagues as mentors on their career path. They are available to answer questions and problems and share their experiences. In workshops and seminars, goals are identified and skills for the management position are taught,” says Lang, describing the program, which is aimed at senior physicians, specialists or assistant physicians who have completed their probationary period and are with the company until the end of the program. 


The manufacturer of high-tech laboratory measuring devices, Knauer, is an example from the healthcare sector in Berlin that is actively committed to gender equality. According to the company, the gender pay gap there is only 2.2 percent. For the past three years, Managing director Alexandra Knauer has had her HR department calculate the gender-specific pay gap for her company every year – with always slightly smaller results.  

In a similar way, the biopharmaceutical company Takeda is committed to women in its own company at its sites in the metropolitan region. The “Women in Leadership” program provides women with long-term support there. You can read more about this in our portrait of Takeda. 


Make women more visible and address gender issues 

The #SheHealth network, which is aimed at women in digital medicine, is independent of the company. The network was founded in 2016 by Professor Dr Sylvia Thun from Berlin together with the President of the German Association of Women Doctors, Dr Christiane Gross. More than 430 experts from the field of digital health have now joined the network: Engineers, journalists, nurses, IT professionals, entrepreneurs, scientists, medical informatics students and health data scientists. In addition to making women in digital health professions visible, the goals of the initiative also include raising awareness of gender-specific issues and developing gender-fair progress. In addition to conducting events and workshops, Sylvia Thun, who is Director of eHealth and Interoperability at the BIH Berlin Institute of Health, has also written a book entitled “Women in the digital future of medicine and healthcare”. The compendium brings together many female perspectives – such as those of young mothers. 


Representation of women in leadership positions 

In turn, numerous women in leading positions in biotechnology are organized in the “Business Network for Women Managers in Life Sciences”. The network was founded in 2002 under the umbrella of the Association of German Biotechnology Companies (VBU). In the network, business contacts are made and personal experiences as managers with different professional backgrounds are exchanged. Several meetings take place throughout the year - the focus is on informal networking.  


The Association of German Women Entrepreneurs (VdU) is committed to more female entrepreneurship, more women in leadership positions and better conditions for women in business. Based in Berlin, the VdU has been pursuing these topics across all sectors for 67 years. In addition to an extensive network with over 1,800 members, the VdU offers regional and nationwide events for the exchange of women and since 2013 has regularly brought together top-class politicians and entrepreneurs in the discussion format “VdU Tea Time” for an exchange on current political issues. 

The “Working Moms” network has set itself the task of achieving a better balance between family and an ambitious career. The Frankfurt-based association offers women in German-speaking countries support in pursuing their careers in full-time employment despite having children. Christiane von der Eltz, Member of the Board at BERLIN-CHEMIE and founding member of the association, tells us more in an interview with HealthCapital. 

Free support for female founders is also offered by the Grace Program of the Berlin agency Ignore Gravity, which is supported by the Bayer Foundation, among others. The program’s offers include a Summer accelerator, a Scale program for growth-stage female founders, a Digital program, a Founder's journey with regular meetings and workshops, and a program for women immigrating to Germany. Female founders from all disciplines can apply – the mentors also include women from the healthcare sector.  


The Vision Health Pioneers Incubator from Berlin is also committed to supporting founders in the healthcare sector. The co-founder of the incubator, which supports startups in the healthcare sector in their early stages, is Maren Lesche, who has already been involved in other initiatives to promote more women in tech companies. 

A worldwide network for women in the healthcare sector is offered by “Women in Global Health”. Founded in 2015, the NGO aims to achieve gender equality in the healthcare sector by building networks, advocating for change, and demanding commitments from decision makers and tracking compliance. Once a year, “Heroines of Health” are honored. This year, for the first time, the grand gala and awards ceremony for the particularly committed women took place in October in Berlin.  


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