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Empowering Future Female Leaders: Q&A with the CEO of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Madeline Bell

Photo credit: Ed Cunicelli

Empathy serves as a compass for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia CEO Madeline Bell, whose first job at the hospital was as a night-shift nurse before holding various executive positions and accepting the role of CEO in 2015. “That’s probably one of the most critically important lessons that made me an effective leader,” she says.

Her empathy runs deeper than the hospital walls. As the first female CEO of CHOP,  Bell is in a powerful position to mentor other women. And she knows how important that role is. Because of this, she founded Heels of Success, a blog dedicated to teaching women how to navigate careers in leadership.  Bell spoke about the inspiration at last year’s ThinkFest, and UnitedHealthcare and Philadelphia magazine sat down with her once again to learn more.

What moment inspired you to launch Heels of Success?
I was doing a talk for the Villanova University Women’s Leadership network, and as I was talking, I looked out into the audience—which was all women—and I noticed they were writing down everything I said. I thought to myself, ‘Wow. There’s such a lack of information for women about women’s leadership and how they can advance their career.’ This was the first ‘aha moment’.  

What programs are in place to provide a variety of people with resources to move forward at CHOP?
I’m really committed to building an inclusive workplace. In July, I opened the annual retreat for our employee resource groups—a  CHOP initiative focused on creating a sense of community for a variety of groups, including the LGBTQ community, differently-abled employees, multicultural employees,  young professionals, women and veterans. The employee groups are part of the work of our Diversity Council that I chair. I don’t want to delegate that to somebody else; I think it’s my responsibility to help make CHOP an inviting place for everyone.

How does your advice differ for women in different stages of their careers?
For women who are early in their careers, I try to focus on sharing the mistakes I or others have made, as well as successes, so they can learn what works and what is not as effective. I find most of the advice I’m giving to women who are further along in their career is just reminding them that they have the tools and abilities, and my job is to help them to be more confident.

What is one piece of early career advice that really resonated with you?
Early in my career at CHOP, there was a CEO who said to me, “You should always think about the mission when you’re making decisions.” That one piece of advice has followed me every day. When I am faced with difficult decisions, I reflect on our mission.

What changes do you hope to see to help sway the pendulum for women?
The only way you really move the dial is to have more women who are CEOs and who are on boards of corporations and non-profits. Until you can do that, the conversation doesn’t really change. As a woman CEO in Philadelphia, there are not many of us, and I feel responsible to do whatever I can to help bring other women along. I care deeply about the next generation having more opportunities than even I had.

Innovation starts by serving the community, and the people, who inspire you to chase your passion. That’s why UnitedHealthcare is proud to shine a spotlight on Philadelphia’s forward thinkers and their outside of the box ideas through the Inspiring Innovation series. To find out more about UnitedHealthcare, visit uhc.com/phillyinnovation.