Purpose - As a profession, healthcare management values commitment to lifelong learning and continuous professional development. Individual participation, however, is voluntary and healthcare managers choose to participate based in part on perceptions of organizational support (rewards, promotion and recognition) as well as on individual values. As women are narrowing the career attainment gap, participation in development activities may play a critical role. This paper aims to present a pilot study which assesses the differences in male and female healthcare managers' participation in professional development activities and perceived organizational support. Design/methodology/approach - An exploratory survey was emailed to current and past members of three professional associations who share similar missions "to provide educational and networking opportunities" for their members in the southern region of Florida. Findings - The findings suggest that women healthcare managers are less likely to pursue professional development activities than their male counterparts even when the outcome (i.e. obtaining professional certification) is associated with career advancement and salary increases. Furthermore, men are more likely than women to attend multiple continuing education programs when paying out of pocket. Research limitations/implications - This pilot study is one of the first attempts to account for the factors that explain gender differences in pursuing personal development activities. Rather than conclusive judgments, it provides directions for further research. Practical implications - As professional and leadership competencies become more ingrained in the industry, women may need to recognize and commit to development activities associated with healthcare leadership and management. Originality/value - Competencies gained through professional development activities may impact career attainment. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.