Celeste Daye: Learning Self-Champion Wants to See More Women in the C-Suite

Celeste Daye, a featured speaker at the HERe Women’s Leadership Conference, Oct. 27-28 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is senior director of patient financial services at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She has 20 years of healthcare experience and has worked for both not-for-profit healthcare systems and large, for-profit organizations.

She has earned awards and accolades for her focus on process improvement and quality initiatives, including three Partners in Excellence Awards, an impact award, and a quality improvement award. Daye is past president of the GE-IDX national hospital user group, past chair for the HFMA Massachusetts-Rhode Island Chapter’s Revenue Cycle Committee, and a member of several other organizations, including the American College of Healthcare Executives and the American Health Information Management Association.

At the HERe Women’s Leadership Conference, Daye will speak about how women can become bolder and get comfortable with the notion of being their own champions.

Q: What do you hope to see come out of taking HERe to the national level, and what do you hope attendees take away from your presentation and the event itself?

A: Women are looking for greater exposure. I want us to reach the women who really need to "hear" (no pun intended). I’ve been a member of HFMA for more than 20 years, and, unfortunately, I had not really heard of HERe in my local chapter. I hope we are able to reach more people, both women and men. It’s important to note that we need diversity to promote inclusion. The only way we can do this is to make sure we are reaching as many people as possible. We want to get in touch with the early careerists to elevate our dialogue so we can inspire change. We want people to walk away from the event thinking, “I cannot miss this meeting. How can I help at the next one?"

I hope participants are motivated, inspired, and feel comfortable enough to ask questions. I hope they come away from the meeting being able to evaluate which questions they should ask their employers and their mentors. Most importantly, I don’t want women to leave their career paths in the hands of fate. Women have to be more deliberate about what they want in their careers.  

Q: What’s your story?

A: Nonprofit organizations like mine don’t focus enough on talent management and how to identify and retain real talent and give people the opportunity to really demonstrate their skills. Fortunately, though, I landed at an organization where there are lots of women in leadership. When I started at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the CFO was female and my boss, the VP of finance, was female, and now the CEO and VP of revenue cycle are female. This is not typical, especially in the finance arena. Because of this, the conversations are easier to have.  

So when I say I don’t have a story (or I do), it’s just that—I haven’t been as deliberate as I could have been, but I’ve had opportunities presented to me despite that. I want to make sure other women have the same.

I’ve always been focused on my career. I didn’t have to identify people outside of my organization. I didn’t have to look very far to be surrounded by people who can inspire me and be examples for me.

I am inspired when I see women who are doing what many consider to be “having it all,” who are well-rounded and believe in work-life balance. I didn’t see that prior to working at Dana-Farber, when I worked at other large, for-profit organizations.

Q: What’s the difference between a mentor, a coach, and a sponsor?

A: Our chapter initially talked about how people identify mentors. The suggestion was made that we create situations at the conference for people to meet potential mentors. I responded with, “I don’t think you can find mentors at a meeting like this.” There are lots of organizations with mentorship programs. I think people need to know about sponsors.

I had a mentor for a long time. I was fortunate to have him; he passed away 12 years ago. He gave me constant emotional support around what I wanted in my life and my career. He helped me to think more openly around expectations of myself. I think your mentor is someone who you do some level of life planning with; he or she is invested in you, and that relationship never goes away.

A sponsor is someone who has identified something in you (and you in him or her) that instills in you both a mutual willingness to support one another. When you are the sponsor, you have a willingness to work with that person and bring her forward. You create opportunities for her based on your willingness to invest in her career and where you think she should be going next.

A coach is not necessarily going to be creating opportunities for you and carrying you along, but he or she is going to have those conversations with you around what you need to do to be better and different as it relates to your career, your performance, and how you are perceived. These are very important concepts to understand. I find that there are many challenges around managing perceptions. Perceptions may not be the truth, but they are what someone thinks about you.

A coach helps you become a well-rounded person and employee. He or she helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and address those weaknesses while also championing your strengths. Coaching has taught me how to be my own cheerleader and salesperson.

Q: What makes you most proud of the work you and your peers have done at HERe on a national level?

A: It’s really my thoughts around inspiring real change. Just having greater exposure and getting to people who, like me, might not have known about HERe otherwise.

Q: About 73 percent of medical health service managers are women, but only 18 percent are in the C-suite. How will those numbers change?

A: They have to change. It goes back to the diversity that I mentioned. To stay competitive, you need different points of view. It can no longer be male-dominated.

The historical view is so very male-dominated, but women are the workhorses; we are the doers. That’s why there are many women in management, but crossing over to the C-suite is a change that HERe wants to promote.

Women don’t need to do everything—we need to work at a different level. It takes those individuals, as well as their sponsors, to create opportunities for others to see the value of what women have and what they can do. That’s what you see. HERe, for me, is mobilizing women to say, “We can help other people; we can start the conversation that you need to have,” to really start thinking through what women want in their careers and how to get there. We create our own limits by saying, “I should be happy where I am,” or, “I am fortunate,” and that is not the case.

Q: How can members of the industry at every level help us all ‘lean in’ more, as Sheryl Sandberg described in her book?

A: It’s interesting how women are uncomfortable with asking for certain things because we never want our abilities or our talent to be questioned. Many of us have this attitude that I need to do exactly what my male counterpart does in exactly the same way. There are lots of things that we as women do to create some of this ourselves. We give men a lot of credit for things they haven’t even thought of or considered. We tend to over-analyze situations and issues. 

Going back to being deliberate in your conversations, part of it is not being afraid to ask for what you want, whether it is to make your work-life balance better or to receive more education. It’s being bold enough to ask for it, and talk about how you can get it.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you personally have faced while advancing your career as a woman in health care?

A: The biggest challenge for me has less to do with the environment and more about myself, going back to having confidence. It’s interesting because what I’ve learned is that there is a perception that I am very confident at work. Internalizing that, I’m glad about that perception.

I haven’t always had female role models. I had some at Dana-Farber, but when I started, I was the only minority female woman at my level. I didn’t have anyone at the organization who I felt was an example.

Quite honestly, in Massachusetts, there are a lot of programs designed to retain people of color. There was a lot of focus on diversity. When it comes to diversity, Dana-Farber doesn’t have many women of color, and certainly not in leadership roles. But things are better than they used to be, and they are continuing to improve.

Celeste Daye's recommended read: You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, by Wes Moss.

Publication Date: Friday, October 23, 2015