Before she became CEO and dean of Northeastern University’s Charlotte campus in March 2022, Angela Hosking served as the director of nursing at the Levine Cancer Institute. She’d spent the previous two decades at Atrium Health, first as a registered nurse, then as a nurse manager for the oncology unit.
As she moved up into more senior positions, she saw fewer and fewer women. “We’re 86% women in nursing,” she says, “but it’s very apparent that when you pass that first layer, women’s roles in power and leadership diminish. As I started leading women, I saw there was a piece of that that we owned.”
It inspired Hosking, 56, to write her book, Woman on Top: Lead Like a Lady Boss. She addresses the challenges of being a nurse and examines the limiting beliefs and behaviors that often hold women back. She also gives motivational speeches to professional women who work in male-dominated industries.
Northeastern, based in Boston, has 14 campuses in North America and Europe. It opened its Charlotte campus uptown in 2011 to meet a regional need for graduate degree programs in health care, financial services, and computer science. The campus’s anchor is the Center for Health Sciences, a research hub that offers nursing and other degrees and works with partners throughout the region to improve health.
“As a CEO, I’m at a lot of tables where decision-makers for the city are, and I’m seeing a lot more diversity in the room,” she says. “But we have to bring more women, and more women of color, into the health care profession, and it all begins with people who are willing to do things differently than we
Here’s Hosking in her own words, edited for length and clarity.
Nursing was my second career. My first career was stay-at-home mom. My undergraduate degree was in English from the University of Florida. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I tapped into that passion much later in life. Sometimes careers go full circle.
I had an amazing experience with a nurse when I delivered my first daughter, so much so that it sparked an interest in understanding more about the profession. I went back to school and got my nursing degree. My husband and I came to Charlotte from Oviendo (just outside Orlando) in 2001 for his job. At that time, our two daughters were 6 and 9, and I’d just begun my nursing career. I started working for Atrium Health in 2002.
I had a woman mentor at Atrium who kept tapping me on the shoulder and telling me leadership is where I needed to go. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She introduced me to opportunities to lead in a different way, and I found my voice in patient advocacy.
When I was working on my double master’s, I was managing a 36-bed oncology unit. I had a male physician say, “What does a nurse do with an MBA?” I said, “I’m running a $7 million operating budget.” And he paused for half a minute and said, “I never thought of it that way.”
I was always aware of having to prove myself more, to be seen as worthy to have that place at the table. That’s where the inspiration for my book came from. At that time in my career, I was looking for the wisdom of other female leaders. I’m an avid reader, and all the (leadership) books I found were written by men. You often teach what you want to learn yourself.
My daughters hate the term “lady boss,” but in that title, I’m embracing the differences I bring to the table. The way I lead is different from the way I saw most men lead. More of us collaborate than push for power.
Men, from day one, will speak about their aspirations and tell people in positions of power what they want to do. One of the first things I ask women that I’m coaching is, “Does your boss know you want to do this?” If you don’t tell them, you can’t sit back and wait for somebody to decide you need to be promoted. If you’re a high performer, they don’t want to promote you. They want you right where you are, supporting the team where you’re at.
The biggest mistake I see women make when negotiating their salary is that they don’t negotiate. We don’t want to make someone mad, be seen as greedy, or come off like we think we know it all. We don’t want to be rude or aggressive. Those societal rules have been ingrained in our brains since the time we were little. It’s hard to unwrap that.
From the time we’re born and identified as being girls, our parents already have expectations and concepts of who we will be as a person. Evidence shows we’re automatically treated differently. In an article in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, they observed parents of little boys and little girls on a playground—it was called the fire pole study. Boys heard, “You’ve got it! Try harder! It’s OK!” The parents of the girls would say, “Let me help you. Don’t get hurt!” Parents didn’t know they were doing it. They’re just repeating societal norms taught to them. From an early age, women begin to learn the world isn’t as safe for us. And positions of power are inherently fraught with danger and risk and fear.
When we were building the Levine Cancer Institute, I was operationally in charge of that project. Every person at the table was a woman—the architect, the IT specialist, the safety person—and I remember thinking, Wow! In a construction meeting! A man came in and said, “Where’s the meeting?” The architect didn’t miss a beat and said, “It’s a new day, sit down, let’s get to work.” Being the only male at the table was a new experience for him (laughs).
This city is far more diverse than any city I’ve lived in in my entire life. It’s opened my eyes to health disparity and inequity in a way that I wouldn’t have been exposed to living in Orlando. The fact that “nobody’s from Charlotte” brings with it diversity of thought and lived experience. For me, it’s been a petri dish of diversity and opportunity. I really consider myself a Charlottean at this point, and I’m proud of this city and the impact I’ve made in the health care industry. Charlotte has really evolved from a banking town to a life sciences hub where 1 in 10 jobs are in health care. I feel proud to have been in that evolution phase. The role that I’m in now is building our center for health sciences in a way that is collaborative and breaking down the barriers between academia and industry.
My daughters are now 27 and 30, and my first thought at the overturning of Roe v. Wade was absolute fear. It’s mind-blowing to me that I’m 56 years old, and something that I thought was put to bed before I became an adult has been revoked. Abortion is health care. I’ve been a nurse to women who’ve had ectopic pregnancies and had their lives at risk, and they were devastated at the loss of their pregnancies, but they didn’t have a choice. I’ve been at the bedsides of women who have lost premature babies and mourned, and at the bedsides of women who’ve had an abortion and mourned that choice. No matter what the situation is, it’s difficult for that woman, and we need to respect her decision. Shying away from discussing it isn’t going to solve the problem.
Being a woman is exhausting. I’m 56, and I realize the attention we pay to taking care of our physical selves, what we put in our mouths, how much we exercise, how much we sleep. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that it’s what we put on the outside of our bodies that is most important. My hope for aging is that we pay more attention to what’s on the inside. I still look in the mirror and think, I need a tummy tuck or I need to lose 5 pounds. It’s going to take a lot of undoing, and I don’t know if we’re ever going to undo it.
What’s evident to me is that we need to mentor and support other women in a way that raises them up. When you identify something in another woman, help her, connect her, support her, cheer her on. When you’re in a position of hiring power, make sure you’re bringing diversity to the team. I love that saying that we stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us. But I also want us to reach back down and pull somebody up with us. If you’re a feminist and passionate about what’s happening in this world, are you actively helping another woman grow? That’s the first place to start.
TAYLOR BOWLER is the lifestyle editor.