Last week I sat down with Adreima’s President, Connie Perez, to talk company culture and the changing role of women in healthcare. She is a founding member on the HERe HFMA Committee (Arizona and National), bringing visibility to progress for women in health finance. Her experience includes leadership roles in both clinical and corporate. We are pleased to feature Mrs. Perez in this Women at the Top exclusive.
1. From nurse to CEO and now President, what challenges have you faced as a woman in healthcare and how have you seen these dynamics shift?
I started in nursing and there was an “eat your young” dynamic with young nurses coming right out of school. It was often difficult to stand up and advocate both for your patients and yourself. Certainly those in the corporate world face similar dynamics. Whether you are a man or a woman, succumbing to the feelings of inadequacy created can hold you back. I think a lot of women don’t realize they are even there. That’s one of the most powerful things Sheryl Sandberg did with Lean In was to get some of that out there…to start talking about the internal barriers to success. Part of it is having the confidence and recognizing that you are qualified to be in that seat with everyone else at the table. Others may have a different perspective they can share, but you need that confidence in your abilities and yourself.
One reason I was successful as a young nurse in advocating for my patients when I knew what needed to be done was helping the doctor believe it was their idea. That way they could do the right thing, learn and save face. Being successful as a nurse in that era was really making sure you could do that well. At some point I realized the power in very purposeful communication. That certainly helped me later on in my corporate career.
2. What inspired your move from Patient Care and Pediatrics to Corporate?
When I first moved from Direct Patient Care into leadership I had been working in Pediatric Neurosurgery for about seven years. I had two kids of my own and it got to the point where I was seeing my kids in children I was caring for. Emotionally it became very difficult. Moving to the next position I was able to be involved and be close without being so close that it affected my personal life. What I found was that I loved that role because I could make a difference at a much different level than when doing direct patient care. When you move into leadership you can really make a difference for those nurses who can then make more of a difference for patients and their families.
The higher you go and the more successful you are at things like culture, the more of a difference you can make. If you’re someone who is driven by making a difference you see that expand as your career does. As I’ve moved up from nurse, to Vice President on the provider side to Chief Executive Officer and now President at Adreima, I’ve been able to do more.
3. Why is mentorship important? Who was your first mentor?
I met my first mentor when I took my first role in clinical management. I reported to Mary Beth Williams, the Vice President of Nursing. Mary Beth could articulate not only how you take care of children and families, but how to build a program around that. I learned a lot from her and followed her through a couple different positions. She was good at seeing your strengths and your areas of improvement; she would just work with you on those. My leadership skills grew because of her dedication.
Mary Beth made me believe in myself. With her I felt like I could do almost anything and that feeling never left. She was the one who helped really instill that in me. She’s an amazing woman. People who are successful senior leaders develop people and teams and share the vision and the credit for success. If you think about literature on company culture, that’s what culture is about. It’s about having a shared vision based on values and doing your best to live it every day. Certainly at Adreima, we strive for that and it is a focus of our senior leadership team.
We’ve just started an Emerging Leaders Program. Those people, men and women, in the organization that have identified the desire and ability to grow as leaders are assigned a mentor on the senior leadership team. I have two people I’m mentoring in a formal mentor role. This is our first “class” of leaders and we are excited to grow the program.
4. While 73% of medical health service managers are women, only 18% are in the C-suite. How will those numbers change?
They are and will change and some of that change is very purposeful. I’m leading the National HFMA (Healthcare Financial Management Association) HERe Women’s Leadership Group and one of the things that is going to be shared at the national event is “report cards” that some companies are using to track their gender composition for every level of management.
How many are men, how many are women? What’s the diversity ratio looking at the entire company and then each of those levels?
So yes, there are very purposeful efforts to have more women move into higher levels. You’ll see more of them move because companies in health services are looking at that. Also, I think individual women are being more purposeful as well and going for those high level roles, ‘leaning in,’ and thinking about what they need to do to get there. It’s both, purposeful and company driven, but also it’s driven by all of us as individuals.
5. Adreima poses a sharp contrast to those statistics with female representation at the executive level in a variety of roles. What makes the company different from within?
It wasn’t purposeful in terms of a formal program, but I think the tone is there. Bob Wilhelm who is our Chief Executive Officer along with our private equity group haven’t just been open to change, they’ve been supportive.
When I look at the women that are on our executive team I see women in a corporate setting who know their environment and made a purposeful decision to be successful there. Kelley Blair ‘grew up’ in Healthcare Revenue Cycle Management, both in hospitals and on the vendor side. She’s someone who will just go for something she wants. Sarah Hornsby, our Chief Human Resources Officer is the same type of person. She’s very confident and unstoppable.
I think both of those people knew what they wanted,… they wanted those roles and they went and got them. All the women on our senior team are people who just went for it.
6. You’ve mentioned company culture a few times. Why is this an important area for leaders to keep their focus?
When I stepped into the role as the Chief Executive Officer at Adreima, I tried to be honest about my areas of strength and weakness to build a team around them and create that shared sense of ownership. That’s one thing that’s important for a leader of any business, being thoughtful about creating the team you have.
As leaders we need to build the culture so people really do push back. I can’t know every aspect of the business nearly as well as our leaders and our team members do. So if I’m taking a position or going in a direction they think is wrong, they need to raise those objections and red flags. If you have a culture where the team believes they have a voice, and that voice matters, not only will they stay but they will drive the business in a positive direction.
7. What makes Revenue Cycle Management and Business-to-Business rewarding for you?
It’s a different way to make a difference. In Revenue Cycle we have the opportunity to make a difference for the hospitals we serve. We serve a lot of small hospitals and when you can increase their cash collections significantly that’s definitely making a difference for the bottom line.
Growing up, I didn’t think of business as an opportunity to help people. When I started my MBA program at Kellogg, having spent my career taking care of people I didn’t really have a framework for how to think about growing and “caring for” a business.
So where I came out is that I frame a business as a living organism. Just like people need food and oxygen for survival and actualization for growth, a business has basic needs as well. That’s where capital, leadership and culture come in. When a business flourishes it makes a difference – the ability to create jobs is huge as is the impact on the community. It is a wonderful way to make a difference.