ISPOR Conferences

Women in HEOR: Adapting to the New Normal

Cate Bailey, PhD, MApSci, BA, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia; and Ingrid Cox, MD, MSc, Dip, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of professionals worldwide, with working from home or remotely being the “new normal.” Notwithstanding this, early research indicates that the pandemic may be disproportionately impacting working women’s careers compared to their male counterparts. This panel of highly successful women in HEOR (Figure 1) discussed how they have adapted to the remote work environment and shared strategies that they have used to continue achieving their goals and long-term career success, at the same time maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Figure 1. Panelists (clockwise): Olivia Wu, Julia Slejko, Blythe Adamson, Ebere Onukwugha, Louise Timlin, and Nancy Devlin.

Women in HEOR_Panelists_Figure 1

Scales Tipped in the Wrong Direction

This session began with an overview of the ISPOR vision for women in HEOR and the steps ISPOR has taken to ensure gender diversity. Julia F. Slejko, PhD, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, Baltimore, MD, USA presented data on the disproportionate representation of women in the workforce and then more specifically women in HEOR. In a European study of economics faculties, while 35% of women were in PhD positions only 13% were at a professorship level (Figure 2). Slejko outlined the advances ISPOR has made to support the growth and development and contribution of women in HEOR over the past years especially as related to the workforce, representation at conferences, panels during conferences, and keynote speakers.

Figure 2: Distribution of Women in Economics Faculties in Europe.
Women in HEOR_Figure 2

I’m OK, You’re OK…With Remote Working

Olivia Wu, PhD, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, presented data from a recent poll completed prior to the conference that sought to assess how women in HEOR are adapting to new ways of working and living during the pandemic. Surprisingly, 60% thought that there were more pros than cons, while 40% found that the pandemic had been highly disruptive. Polling results of the current audience produced similar results as 67% of the audience highlighted that they were not concerned about meeting current performance assessment goals set with their supervisors.

Louise Timlin, MSc, Eli Lilly and Company, Surrey, United Kingdom, began her presentation by acknowledging that women are all in the same sea but are in different boats. And the boat you are in depends on the support system available. The focus of her presentation sought to answer her opening question, “Are we falling back into traditional gender roles?”

“What worked before COVID still works, but differently.”—Ebere Onukwugha, PhD, MS

She presented data from several research studies, which revealed that 50%-75% of women are doing more childcare and household duties now than before the pandemic, and twice as much compared to their partners. Women were also more likely to lose their jobs or quit work than their partners, which would have future consequences on the gender pay gap, gross domestic product and women re-entering the workforce. Timlin’s take-home message on what to do about gender imbalance was that women should talk about gender balance in the home and discuss equal split of responsibilities and household tasks.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Seize the Chance to Make Lemonade
Ebere Onukwugha, PhD, MS, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, Baltimore, MD, USA, reflected on the situation from the “glass half full perspective,” with a central theme of “disruption creating opportunity.” She presented data from the past 20 years, illustrating how the current recession due to the pandemic has resulted in more job losses in higher education in a shorter period of time than previous recessions, which would disproportionately affect women as they are already disadvantaged in the workforce (Figure 3). Notwithstanding these challenges and those in the household, she motivated women to absorb the disruption and seize the opportunity, saying “What worked before COVID still works, but differently.”

Figure 3: Nothing’s Wrong, But Something Is Not Right. Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Jobs in Higher Education institutions.
Women in HEOR_Figure 3

She encouraged women to spend time reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on work and home life; to understand that interruptions are guaranteed and in no way reflect on your professionalism; to be willing to reinvent yourself; to keep an eye out for opportunities; and finally, to establish structure and manage expectations.

 “Institutions need to change their rules to reflect different opportunities and challenges facing women."—Nancy Devlin, PhD

Pandemic Challenges Through the Lens of Women in HEOR
Blythe Adamson, PhD, MPH, Flatiron Health, New York, NY, USA, described how women in HEOR are uniquely positioned to have the skill set for thriving during the pandemic, thanks to their knowledge of building cost-benefit models and decision trade-offs affecting their and their family's health and economic situation. She noted that women's understanding of perspective and time horizon make them uniquely situated for effective decision making and viewed remote learning as an example of how decisions differ over a short time horizon of 3 months, compared to managing remote learning over 18 months.

“Stated willingness-to-pay” was compared to “revealed willingness-to-pay” to show what women value and what women prioritize. Anderson shared an image of her “tiny, tiny apartment” where she faced the challenges of combining remote schooling and remote working. This prompted her to move into a larger apartment with outdoor space and to hire a tutor for her children. These changes, however, were not without costs and sacrifices, namely her leisure time. Anderson ended up taking on an extra job in the evening to make things work, proving her point that women in HEOR are equipped with the skills to make cost trade-offs, to reshuffle and prioritize, to take advantage of special opportunities, and be flexible in expanding to a new normal.

 "Women are all in the same sea but are in different boats."—Louise Timlin, MSc

Unlocking Gender Bias
Nancy Devlin, PhD, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, acknowledged that the shift to virtual working has both positives and negatives. According to Devlin, the positives included increased opportunities for engagement with international colleagues. However, this advantage came at a high personal price of working through the night, but without the usual benefits afforded by overseas travel or reduced family commitments.

Devlin was particularly concerned about avoiding locking in gender bias caused by the changing work landscape for women, where the shift to COVID-19 priorities, difficulties in recruiting participants, disruption to paper submission, and reduced ability for early career researchers to submit grant applications have had a cumulative impact particularly on women. Medium-term issues were needing to maintain effective teams through hybrid/online and in-person meetings and managing safe and effective physical return to work. Regarding longer-term adaptation, Devlin asserted that, “institutions need to change their rules to reflect different opportunities and challenges facing women, and promotion opportunities need to be adapted to genuinely and fairly assess achievement ‘relative to opportunity’ to avoid locking in the gender bias.”

Finding and Maintaining a Healthy Balance
Balancing the good and the bad from the pandemic was a main focus of this panel discussion. While there have been huge hurdles for women in terms of balancing work and home roles, there have also been new opportunities. The panelists discussed how in some respects the playing field has been leveled by online access to new opportunities but cautioned how this would play out as institutions opened again. Panel members agreed that making sure to take sufficient time away from work was important to stay productive. In closing, Devlin encouraged all women in HEOR to reach out and give a hand up to their female colleagues.


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