‘Gender empowerment is a national imperative’
By: Jayata Sharma
She is widely recognised for her contributions in making high quality healthcare accessible to millions across the country and also for her support to various entities and industry bodies, working for the betterment of India. Apollo Hospitals is acclaimed as the pioneer of private healthcare in India, and was the country’s first corporate hospital. A proponent of integrated healthcare, Apollo Hospitals has a robust presence across the healthcare spectrum. Since its inception, in 1983, the Group has touched the lives of over 150 million individuals who came from 140 countries.
Ms. Reddy works closely with the organisation’s clinicians in introducing contemporary protocols to continuously enhance clinical outcomes. She leads the thrust on quality improvement processes to achieve the highest standards of patient satisfaction. She is the Managing Trustee of the Apollo Hospitals Education Trust; a principal body steering institutions in Nursing, Allied Health Sciences and Management, with a shared objective of building a talent pool of skilled healthcare human resources in India.
In addition to her responsibilities at Apollo Hospitals, Ms. Reddy works with industry bodies and the Government of India to advance policy decisions on healthcare. She was a Founding Member of the Quality Council of India and under her guidance, teams from Apollo Hospitals worked with the Government of India in introducing the NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers) accreditation. She is a nominated Member of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. She is on the Board of Governors of the Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon.
She provides leadership and direction to several social projects like SACHi (Save a Child’s Heart Initiative), which supports diagnostics and treatment of underprivileged children ailing with congenital heart diseases. Across the country, whenever the need arose, she championed facilitation of prompt medical assistance to provide relief and rehabilitation in times of disasters and natural calamities.
Preetha Reddy was conferred the ‘ABLF Award for Business Courage’ by the Asian Business Leaders Forum (ABLF) Dubai. She is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award for distinguished service in the field of Social Science conferred by the Loyola Forum for Historical Research. She was awarded the NHRDN ‘People CEO Awards – Women Leadership’ by The National HRD Network.
In a conversation with Women’s Healthcare World special edition, she opens up about what women empowerment means to her…
What does empowerment mean to you?
As it is said, leaders become great, not because of the power they hold, but because of their ability to empower others. In 2018, the World Economic Forum had measured gender gap across four key pillars – economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and survival and it found India wanting on several counts.
Addressing this situation requires every responsible Indian citizen to act and bring about a positive change. The development and execution of women-centric policies cannot be a quick fix or dealt with only by the Government. It requires dynamism, an understanding of the pressures that women face across urban and rural societies and then, fresh thinking to address them.
Moreover, like every other nation, India too needs to invest much more into women and girls as it is the secret to advancing sustainable development.
The top 3 things women need to change in their mind-sets.
The first aspect that women must be cognizant about is that gender empowerment is not just the right thing to do, but is a national imperative. Honestly, it is non-negotiable in the present day. Metaphorically, women hold up half the sky and from a business perspective, they drive almost 70% of the purchase decisions, thereby making their participation in every aspect of business and public life absolutely pivotal. So, women must ensure that they receive what is due to them – equality of opportunity, safety and security.
Often, a setback is that many women hold themselves back from advancement in the work place with self-imposed barriers. Many young women fear that workplace missteps will cost them their job, reputation, and success. This must change as progressive organisations are putting mechanisms to address any such anomalies.
Also, some women fear that employers will view them as vulnerable, inefficient, or unmotivated if they decide to start a family. And worse still is an inferiority complex, wherein some women still believe that men are stronger leaders, have better ideas, and are more equipped to achieve success. I would reiterate that women can only break through these barriers by helping themselves.
Women have kind hearts, fierce minds and brave spirits. And when women support each other, incredible things happen.
Finally, across the world, there are subtle signs of chaos everywhere, a sort of disequilibrium. I strongly feel that an added dose of feminine instincts and sensibilities will go a long way in helping us find the path of stability and balance once again as corporate entities, as nations and as a balanced planet.
What is unique about the challenges for women in the healthcare industry, as compared to other sectors?
Women make up nearly 70% of the world’s 43 million healthcare workers. And despite the fact that women all over the world perform vital roles, ranging from that of surgeon to midwife to nurse to home health aide – women hold only approximately 35% of leadership roles in the health care industry, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report.
This dichotomy clearly has to do with gender discriminatory attitudes entrenched deeply in many societies, as well as access to education and training opportunities.
Women contribute about $3 trillion worth of work to the global health economy every year, making up about 5% of the world’s GDP, but nearly half of this work is unpaid and unrecognised. Women and girls are often relied upon to provide healthcare support, whether that’s informally in their communities – for example, as a midwife without formal training or for their own families providing childcare to young siblings or acting as a home health aide to ailing family members.
To address this, more women holding leadership roles could have an empowering ripple effect on the health care workforce. As leaders, women are better able to lift one another up and women in leadership positions are more likely to recognise the potential of and hire other women. That means better health for patients, more opportunities for women in the health care industry and even stronger economies.
Which special initiatives does Apollo undertake to ensure the upward graph of its women employees?
Since our organisation’s inception, Apollo Hospitals has always maintained a healthy women employment ratio – for e.g. across all AHEL hospitals, female workforce constitutes 57% of total workforce.
Safety is paramount and at Apollo, there is a dedicated safety committee that has an overview and review of the safety of women across all our workplaces.
Another noteworthy aspect is our commitment to embedding diversity through the entire path. As a case in point, a minimum of one female candidate is interviewed for each position and there is a minimum of one woman representative in every selection committee. Our managers are encouraged to identify and support junior women seeking career growth and to also recommend investments for their personal development through programs for higher education, attending workshops, or completing professional certification programs. Alongside our concierge services assist employees towards greater work-life balance.
Apollo has special health check products across gender and ages and it is mandatory for all our employees to undergo an annual health check. Typically, women in India tend to put their own needs, especially health on the backseat. Our mandatory checks ensure that women in the Apollo family and also their loved ones don’t neglect their own health.
Our nurses constitute the largest segment of our female workforce and we have several innovative programmes for their continued development and success. The Apollo Continuing Nursing Education helps them adopt new protocols and pursue the best nursing practices to ensure superlative patient satisfaction.
In addition, Apollo also has a high ratio of middle and senior management across all functions, both in clinical and non-clinical areas.
Which is the most important rule to balance work-life?
At first, I would say it’s paramount to bear in mind that work life balance is not just a catchphrase, it is a necessity. There is established evidence, which suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardise safety and increase stress. Furthermore, the more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as personal care or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for an individual’s well-being, and it would bring in additional physical and mental health benefits.
Human life is priceless and good health is indeed our greatest gift. It’s our foremost responsibility to make the effort to nurture this priceless gift of the Creator.
India today is grappling with a pandemic like upsurge of non-communicable diseases, the reason for every sixth death, in our nation and this demands tremendous behavioral change. A very recent Lancet study pointed that dietary risks were the second biggest factor behind deaths and disabilities in 2017.
A healthy diet, physical and mental exercise, letting go off the cigarette, remembering to laugh every day and a regular health checkup can move life from good to great, quite effortlessly.
The most difficult hurdle you faced in your career where you showed utmost courage and strength?
As my father, Dr. Prathap C Reddy, Chairman of Apollo Hospitals has often said, the million bricks that it took to build the first Apollo Hospital in Madras; each represented a challenge that we grappled with in pioneering corporate healthcare into the country.
Today, the private health sector serves not just 70% of India’s medical needs, but it also serves patients who come to our country from over 100 nations, around the world. India has been able to serve patients beyond its shores due a quality revolution that Apollo Hospitals ushered into the country in early 2000s.
Accreditation by the Joint Commission International (JCI) is the ‘Gold Standard’ in health care accreditation. In 2003, no one believed that an Indian hospital could achieve the hallowed distinction. This was a particularly tough challenge that I grappled with and for me personally, it was a defining moment.
Back then, I travelled to Oakbrook, Illinois, to meet up with JCI, had extensive discussions regarding the expectations by JCI and I returned all fired up with the resolve to make sure that India would achieve the hallowed JCI accreditation.
I still recall how many felt that JCI accreditation would make sense only for foreign patients, but our Chairman had said, every human being whether Indian or otherwise deserves and has the right to quality medical care. I would say that at that point in time, the courage that I found within me to do what it took for India to garner quality accreditation, helped us to take quality healthcare closer to the underserved, the many millions in need.
In 2006, Apollo Indraprastha Hospital became the first in India to receive this coveted accreditation. Over the years since then, several of hospitals have been accredited and re-accredited and this success also set the ground for the creation of the NABH in India. Currently, it is mandatory for hospitals to be NABH accredited to treat patients under the CGHS scheme.