Women in Leadership: A Q&A with Woman’s President and CEO

Woman’s Hospital recently celebrated its 50th birthday — a milestone that could not have been possible without outstanding leadership. Teri Fontenot, Woman’s President and CEO, has served the organization for more than half of its existence. She seen many changes in the healthcare landscape in that time, especially for women in leadership roles. 

When you first became President/CEO of Woman’s in the 1990s, was healthcare leadership male dominated? Yes, most CEOs were male when I became CEO in 1996.  The number of women in leadership positions has increased since then, but, at less than 25% of the total healthcare executives, females are still under-represented in the C-suites of health systems.

Did you have any female role models during the early years of your career? Sister Anne Marie Twohig, the CEO of St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe, LA, was my mentor. She hired me for my first healthcare position as the controller for the hospital in 1982. I had never worked in healthcare, but she was wanted a CPA to oversee accounting and patient accounting, and taught me the medical and administrative side of hospital operations. She also taught me the importance of culture and mission for success in healthcare. I had not considered healthcare prior to meeting her, and now can’t imagine working in any other field. She took a chance on me, and I owe my career to her.

Throughout your career, what challenges have you overcome as a woman in business? I don’t think about the challenges that being female create in business because I don’t want to make excuses or view it as a self-imposed limitation. There is a movement in business to place more females in leadership positions in all business sectors, and I believe that it is incumbent on women who have those opportunities to demonstrate the value that we bring to the table. Making sound decisions, being professional, and engaging in conversations are key to acceptance in male-dominated situations.

What advice do you have for women aspiring to be future business leaders? Network and prepare! Take the time to get to know influencers, make sure they know of your interest in ascending to a leadership role, and ask people you respect to mentor you. Be prepared to accept leadership roles when the opportunity arises by asking for projects in your area of interest. This provides experience and makes you visible to the decision-makers.

I would like to add that it is an honor to serve Woman’s patients, employees, physicians, and our community. I will be forever grateful for the career and personal opportunities that being CEO have provided. The Woman’s team is incredibly dedicated to our mission and excellent, compassionate care for each other and the patients we serve.