Virtua Health defies industry norms with majority of women in leadership roles

Nearly 55% of the N.J. health system’s senior leaders are women, compared to 25% industry-wide;

Women represent about 75% of the U.S. health care workforce, yet they’re vastly underrepresented at the leadership level. In fact, only 25% of senior-leader health care roles worldwide are occupied by women, according to Forbes.

Making matters worse, women in leadership are abandoning their careers in record numbers, according to Bloomberg and USA Today. Sheryl Sandberg, founder of LeanIn.Org, dubbed this the “Great Breakup.”

Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest health system, is defying this distressing lack of parity. Five of the nine people on Virtua’s senior executive team are women, two of them hired and two of them promoted under the current CEO’s tenure. What’s more, nearly 55% of Virtua’s senior leadership team members are women — more than twice the industry average — many of them advanced in recent years as part of a purposeful identification and acknowledgment of talent.

This is no accident. Rather, it reflects the Marlton-based health system’s deliberate effort to recruit, retain and advance women in its workforce as a strategic imperative.

“Recognizing talent and being intentional about how we hire, promote and ensure fair and equitable opportunities for all, especially women, has been an important tenet of my leadership,” said CEO and President Dennis Pullin. “Today, women are at the helm of many of our divisions, ensuring Virtua is an industry leader in innovation, clinical excellence and human experience.”

Among the women in leadership roles is Rhonda Jordan, executive vice president and chief human resources officer of the not-for-profit organization. Jordan has worked at Virtua for more than 25 years, and is driving action to ensure women (and other underrepresented groups) have pathways to advance their careers in a nurturing environment. Examples include:

  • Women of Virtua: The first of several colleague communities (affinity groups) that have become essential to Virtua’s culture. The group provides networking opportunities, mentoring circles and safe spaces for women to connect with and support one another.
  • Board diversity: Virtua has instituted bylaws to ensure its board of trustees reflects the diversity of its service area, including more representation for women.
  • Leadership development: Virtua’s human resources team tracks the development and advancement of its workforce, and has enacted measures to ensure that people of color, women and other individuals with historically overlooked identities/backgrounds receive equitable opportunities to grow in their careers and be recognized for their contributions.
  • Inclusion, Diversity and Equity for All (IDEA) Committee: This group encompasses colleagues from every division of Virtua, working collaboratively to advance three main goals: elevating the value of inclusion & diversity, cultivating an inclusive culture and creating an equitable workforce.

Such dedicated efforts are critical at a time when 43% of women leaders said they were burned out, compared with 31% of men at the same level.

Women leaders are good for business, research shows. For example, a 2020 report from McKinsey & Co. found that companies in which women made up at least 30% of the executive team were 48% more likely to outperform companies with fewer or no women in leadership.

Studies have consistently found women tend to adopt a more transformational leadership style, which includes demonstrating compassion, care, concern, respect and equality. (By contrast, men have a more transactional approach, which includes a more task-focused, achievement-oriented style of management.)

“In my career, I have benefited from working for and with exceptional women who helped me appreciate my own potential,” Stephanie Fendrick, executive vice president and chief strategy officer for Virtua, said. “Now that I am in a leadership role, I consider it both an honor and a responsibility to pay it forward and help talented women thrive professionally.”

“I have witnessed such tremendous progress at Virtua through the years, and we are a better organization because of it,” Jordan said. “We have about 10,000 women on our workforce, and collectively we are helping South Jersey be well, get well and stay well.”

Women in Leadership at Virtua Health

Executive leadership team

  • Sarah Fawcett-Lee, senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer;
  • Stephanie Fendrick, executive vice president and chief strategy officer;
  • Rhonda Jordan, EVP and chief human resources officer;
  • Lauren Rowinski, SVP and chief legal officer;
  • Chrisie Scott, SVP and chief marketing officer.

Senior vice presidents

  • Donna Antenucci, SVP, clinical integrated network operations;
  • Lisa Ferraro, SVP and chief quality, safety, and risk officer;
  • Clare Hall, SVP of human resources operations;
  • Catherine Hughes, SVP and chief nursing officer;
  • Beth Juliano, SVP, clinical information and identity services;
  • Jennifer Khelil, SVP and chief medical officer;
  • Rebecca D. Lynch, SVP and president, Virtua Medical Group;
  • Debra Moran, SVP, health equity and community-based programs;
  • Rita S. Veterano, SVP, integrated care management and home health;
  • Mary Annis Wajda, SVP, integrated solutions.