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Women Transforming Health Care: Sandra Clarke

'The women who inspire me the most are women who do not typically make a top ten list,' Clarke says

Sandra Clarke joined Blue Shield of California in 2018 as senior vice president and Chief Financial Officer, bringing more than 25 years of financial leadership experience to the nonprofit health plan. In addition to overseeing the company’s financial strategy, financial operations and actuarial functions, she is also responsible for Enterprise Process Transformation and Corporate Development. Sandra plays a senior role in devising and enacting strategies to help Blue Shield serve more members and to realize the company’s vision to transform health care. Sandra was recently named one of the most influential women in the Bay Area by San Francisco Business Times.

Why did you choose to make your career in health care?

When I worked in water treatment, we were filtering water for hospitals, pharmaceuticals, and cleaning toxins from ground water. My next company made defibrillators to literally bring people back to life. I realized through those experiences that I enjoy being a part of companies that make a positive impact on people’s health and their lives.

sandy clarke

Who are women that inspire you and why?

I could list some famous women and it would be true that they inspire me. However, the women who inspire me the most are women who do not typically make a top ten list. For example, both of my grandmothers were an inspiration to me. I am inspired by the mothers, nurses, and teachers I see all around me who provide love and support without ever expecting big rewards. They lead with their determination, their patience, and their courage. 

How can we/ how do you support the next generation of women leaders?

Women leaders need advocates or sponsors early in their careers, as well as mentors. Both roles are critical. Mentors can provide guidance and advice, while an advocate is someone who uses his or her credibility within the organization on your behalf and promotes you in situations where you may not be the obvious candidate. This can be powerful. As leaders, we all should continually ask ourselves how we can be better advocates for the next generation of women leaders within our organizations.

What challenges do we still need to overcome to achieve equality?

I saw a blog recently where a woman in leadership said she wished she had realized earlier in her career that she “belonged here” (in a leadership position). Everyone with the skills and the interest belongs here. When that is a given, we will have equality. Sheryl Sandberg was right about leaning in and taking your seat at the table. I have observed that many of us are hesitant to advocate for ourselves, which includes being proud of our abilities and our accomplishments. It is not bragging to articulate what you contribute; it’s a fact.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak changed the way you lead?

COVID required me to evaluate priorities for this year and think hard about what is really important for me to accomplish as well as the team and the organization. I’ve also made extra efforts to be in contact with my team and to be available virtually since we cannot have the face-to-face time we enjoyed in the past. 

I am really proud of how Blue Shield has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. We made some important decisions early in the outbreak that allowed us to support our providers financially, provide some relief to our members facing hardships and importantly, keep our employees safe throughout the pandemic. In my previous roles at for-profit companies, the choices during a crisis were a little more clear-cut. But at Blue Shield since we are a nonprofit, it’s a different mindset. My team and I are not talking about whether to reduce a dividend for investors – we’re talking about what we need to do to keep our providers afloat. That to me is a unique example of Blue Shield’s leadership during COVID-19, and I’m proud to be a part of it.