Yesterday on the show floor at HIMSS, I had one of those experiential moments that makes an impression.

CSC kindly invited me to a couple of their afternoon events, one of which was a women business leaders reception. I was able to meet Lisa Pettigrew, CSC’s general manager for its healthcare and life sciences division, and we went to the informal reception at its booth. As I stood among 20 or so women, I had the realization that I was the only male in the group.

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Rarely do we experience that feeling of being “only.” But for that one brief moment, I realized how challenging that can be.

Women in healthcare IT, and particularly healthcare IT leadership, have sometimes known that feeling. It is certainly much better than it was 20 years ago, and the ranks of women IT leaders continue to grow.

One of my favorite benefits of working for six years at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives was meeting many so top CIOs and becoming friends with them over the years. Among those friendships are many with women who exemplified high-level skills in leadership, management and vision.

Still, I worry about the need to ensure that healthcare IT fully embrace all who want to come into the field and aspire to a leadership role. That’s why some of the results of the HIMSS Compensation Survey were so troubling to me.

As part of analysis of data in the compensation survey, at the behest of Carla Smith, executive vice president of HIMSS North America, the organization looked at data to identify gender-based IT pay inequity. It found some glaring gaps that require more analysis and some industry reflection.

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"For 2015, the study found males had a higher average annual compensation ($126,000) than females ($101,000). And for respondents in executive and senior managerial roles, the differential is worse."

For 2015, the study found males had a higher average annual compensation ($126,000) than females ($101,000). And for respondents in executive and senior managerial roles, the differential is worse. HIMSS analysis found that first year compensation for females tends to be 63 percent of what their male peers make, and it takes females more than 15 years in the same roles to achieve parity.

That should raise alarms on a number of fronts. For one, the industry is still dealing with an IT staffing crisis, and it’s really not in a position to alienate half of its potential employment pool by suggesting that a wide gap exists between pay scales for men and women.

And on a longer-term scale, the industry doesn’t want to send the same message to women who have the capability and skill set to aspire to be senior executives. Knowing that it takes 15 years to make up a gender gap in pay does not inspire confidence in a career selection.

Staffing needs aside, gender pay differences just inherently have to be considered wrong. It has been that way across multiple industries for many years in this country, but that doesn’t mean that the differential doesn’t need to be acknowledged and addressed.

So what’s the solution? Part is recognizing the contributions of top women in our field, honoring their accomplishments and showing them as role models to other women who can and should this field for their future. Health Data Management is taking a step in that direction with our inaugural “Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT” conference and awards program in Boston on May 12. It should be noted that HIMSS is planning a similar event in the fall.

But efforts by our magazine and others to recognize powerful women in healthcare IT is only a first step. More efforts must be designed to ensure that women are welcome, will be treated fairly and paid equitably.

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