In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee (DEIB) chose to profile two of our own female leaders who represent women’s history in the making. A year ago, Robin LaBonte, CFO, and Dr. Jennifer Cutts, CMO, stepped up to lead our hospital as co-CEOs through both a pandemic and a historic leadership transition. Recently, Dr. Jessica Stevens and Kate Ford sat down with them to discuss their individual journeys. Here are some highlights from that conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Women in the C-suite are few and far between. Less than 15% of CFOs nationally are women, and less than 10% of CFOs in health care are women. What do you think were factors that contributed to your success in achieving this high profile role? How do you suggest that we help other women achieve this same level of success?
RL: I feel like you always need a mentor or a supporter, and for me, that started in high school. Math was something that I had always loved. Back then, it was not as common for women to enjoy math. I had a great teacher who just supported me and encouraged me to be anything that I wanted. In college, the same thing happened. I was a business major and I had a professor who really took an interest. He was a huge help in getting me to that first step, my first career in public accounting. I didn’t set out to go into public accounting or to be a CFO, that was never a goal.
Once you get to a place and you find something you love, that’s a key, too. I didn’t really recognize until I was out working that health care was something I really enjoyed. So, if you can combine something you love with your job, that’s critical.
Another factor that came to mind is accepting that you are going to always feel like your professional life and your personal life are not balanced. Sometimes your professional life is heavier because you have things you need to accomplish, and sometimes your focus needs to be on your personal life. So, if you can accept that, and use that to move forward and not expect a perfect balance, I think that is critical.
Work hard and don’t let fear get in the way. Let it motivate you. Try things. Don’t be afraid to fail; we all fail. Those are kind of the things that helped me get to where I am today. Like I said, I didn’t set out to be a CFO, but looking back, just that love of math, accounting and health care all sort of came together.
We are not sure you are aware that you may have helped pave the way for women here at York Hospital. Talk to us about women in leadership at York Hospital.
JC: I actually think York Hospital is a very open place for women leaders. If you look around, there have been many women leaders before me, certainly. We’ve got women nursing directors and directors of various service lines.
I do think that women sometimes need a little encouragement to go for leadership roles. They tend to think that they may not have all of the necessary skills, and they may wait too long to start to show what they have to offer. So, I think it is incumbent on us as women leaders, and leaders of the hospital in general, to always have an eye out for people who have potential, and even more than mentoring, sometimes sponsor those people.
Robin had talked about math teachers that had really mentored her. Did you have anybody in your life that you felt was instrumental in encouraging you to reach further and become who you are today?
JC: It’s an interesting question because, sometimes, people feel they should have one single mentor. And what I have found is that’s usually not practical, and if you are waiting for that to happen, you may miss opportunities. What I have found throughout my educational career and my professional career is that you really need to take opportunities for mentorship in little bits and pieces where they exist. And, oddly enough, sometimes understanding who I don’t want to be has been as useful and constructive as finding someone who I want to be like.
Have either of you ever been afraid, when you were offered something, to take it? Did you take it, or did you pass?
RL: Absolutely. When I came to York Hospital, they were interviewing for the CFO and the controller. The current CFO reached out to me and said, “I would love for you to come down and interview . . . .” I did, and I had a one-year-old at the time. It was going to require us to move here, so I said, “You know what? I don’t think I’m ready to take the CFO position.”
They offered me the controller, which I took. I did that for two years, and then the CFO opportunity arose again. I did absolutely recognize that at that point in my life I was a little nervous about my family responsibilities, a move here, and all of that. So, I opted not to take that opportunity then, and I was fortunate enough that it came up a couple of years later.”
JC: I would say it’s normal to be fearful of a new opportunity in general, so I would expect that’s a feeling we would all have with any new role. It’s normal. It’s just part of it.
RL: And if we can just encourage people to understand that the fear is normal. And if you can take advantage of that, sometimes it can help motivate you. But also, it’s not a negative to make a decision that this isn’t the right thing, right now. It doesn’t mean it’s the end of that career goal.
I think that’s pretty evident in your career path – in not choosing the CFO job, but ending up here anyway and ending up with the CFO job ultimately. So saying no actually meant saying yes, later.
RL: The timing was much better. It may not have worked if I had opted in initially.
Do you have any particular words of wisdom for young women who are saying, “I want to break that glass ceiling. I want to be in that position of leadership and inspire people the way that the two of you do”? What advice do you have for those young women?
RL: If you can find that great alignment between something you feel really passionate about and love to do and the position, or the place, or whatever it is for you, I think that’s critical. I think that’s a big driver of finding that success.
Take advantage of anything that gets offered to you. Don’t be afraid because it’s something you haven’t been part of. Don’t be afraid because you don’t know anyone in the room. Just take advantage of anything that gets put in front of you that can help you with that career goal that you have.
JC: I would totally agree. It strikes me that women are really good students in high school and at the top of their class and excelling in college. Somewhere along the way, they slow down, and it’s for a variety of reasons. My advice would be to pace yourself, keep going, expect that you are going to run into road blocks, and don’t be discouraged.
Visit our YouTube page to watch a short excerpt from the interview.
Co-CEOs Robin LaBonte, CFO (center left),
and Dr. Jennifer Cutts, CMO (center right),
with interviewers Kate Ford (left) and
Dr. Jessica Stevens (right) from the DEIB Committee.