Diane Holder says it helps to spot some women in the upper rungs of the organization chart.
“I don’t think a woman needs a woman mentor, but it can help to see women who are in positions of authority—it gives us all something to aspire to,” said Holder, who is president and CEO of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) health plan.
With 62,000 employees, 20 hospitals, and 3,500 physicians, UPMC says it is the second largest provider-owned health system in the United States. Holder heads the $7 billion revenue UPMC Insurance Services Division of eight regulated insurance companies. With about 3,000 employees, the division serves more than 2.9 million members.
Holder, who has worked in the health care industry for more than 30 years, earned her psychology degree from the University of Michigan and her clinical social work and public health degree from Columbia University.
She began her UPMC career at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, a 400-bed psychiatric hospital. She joined the executive team there in the 1990s, ultimately moving up to CEO. During that time, Holder became the founding CEO of Community Care Behavioral Health, the largest not-for-profit behavioral health management company in the country. More recently, in 2013, she helped create a partnership between UPMC Health Plan and the Advisory Board to form Evolent Health, now a publicly traded, independent health care services company.
She had few female colleagues early in her career. “The physician and the hospital administrative group were male-dominated. There were some women and, as we grew, more women began to come into administration. Hospital administration continues to be a fairly male-dominated area, as is insurance,” she said.
The gender balance on the boards of the insurance companies in her group varies from 30% to 50% women, well above the average of about 20% at national health insurance companies. Likewise, her senior leadership is well above the average. About half of her C-suite officers are women.
Her groups are ahead of goals set by some organizations, which call for gender balance in business by the year 2030. She said boards need to take more responsibility for diversity and push the envelope for board members as well as in their selection of CEOs.
Holder, who raised three children as she worked, said assuming leadership roles is a difficult work–life balancing act and that women in leadership positions are often more attuned to the challenges. “I think many men are sensitive too, but I think much of the burden continues to fall on women,” she said.
Sheryl Sandberg has advised women to lean in; Holder says, “Get out and connect with many people who are different than you.” She also suggests volunteering at not-for-profits to develop leadership skills and joining associations “to give you a sense of the larger community and how you can learn to be part of it.”