By Whitney James, MD – Girl Neurosurgeon
“What we have found consistently, is that when we present women and men with exactly the same credentials, qualifications and backgrounds, for a job that is traditionally male, held by men in our culture, thought to require male attributes, we consistently find that the woman is seen as more incompetent than the man.”
– Madeline Heilman, PhD, Department of Psychology, NYU
A couple of weeks ago, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at Kaiser Permanente’s Women in Medicine Symposium in San Diego, California. Some of my key messages:
- Presently, fewer than 1/5 of our elected leaders are women.
- Fewer than 1/20 of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
- In 1966, only 6% of medical student graduates where women. In 2016, 46% of medical school graduates were women.
- Yet still, in 2018, only 1 in 5 full professors of medicine is a woman.
- Only 15% of Department Chairs in medicine are women.
- Only 3% of Chairs of Departments of Surgery are women.
Women in traditionally male fields, such as medicine, often find themselves in a catch 22. Either they are perceived as “too nice”, which comes across as “weak” and “incompetent”. Or, they are perceived as competent, but “unlikeable”, “untrustworthy”, “not a team player”. Sometimes, the perception can oscillate back and forth between “weak” and “unlikeable” many times during the course of a work day. Shankar Vedantam has an entire Hidden Brain episode devoted to this very topic, and definitely worth a listen.
One of my key messages in my talk was that nothing is going to change without the support, backing and motivation of the majority group, in this case men. In any situation of discrimination, the discriminator must be the one to question their own perceptions and subconscious biases, recognize them, and be committed to opening their minds to alternate possibilities. It should not be on the shoulders of the discriminated to change their behavior so as to conform to the majority group.
Ending gender bias in medicine, leadership and the work place can’t just be on the women aiming for the corner office.
It has to be on all of us.