Where Are We?
I hope my words speak to each of you today, both men and women alike, about leadership and embracing our differences. My hope is that my words stop and make you think about your role in your world as it relates to the opposite gender in the workplace.
The higher I get up the "ladder", the more I realize how little of my tribe is there. To be completely honest, as a woman who is actively building a career, I would be smart to keep my head down and just keep plowing ahead.
But for those that know me, I am not such a person.
Lately I have met several women, older and retired, who built successful lives in male-dominated fields. They worked in an era where there was no maternity leave or changing rooms in the surgical areas for female doctors – only ones labeled “Doctor” (where the men changed in scrubs) and “Nurse” (where the females changed). These women blazed ahead, without policies or procedures or networks or societies, and led.
What astounds me is that the farther I climb the ladder now, in 2017, the fewer women I see. I have to admit this phenomenon was never really a blip in my radar during my early career. It astounds me that while I work in an era where we have maternity leave and female change rooms, it is still rare to see women on corporate boards, in the C-Suite, in deans’ offices or as presidents. As a mid-career woman, I am constantly looking for them. I want to see them so I can think, “OK, I can do this!” Early in my career, women seemed to be everywhere, working, running, writing, rushing. Now, when I see a woman in meetings, I take notice.
Where are we? Where did we fall off, and why is this happening? We are just as smart as Assistant Professors as we are as Professors. We are just as hard working as clinical staff as we will be as Program Chiefs or Chairs or Medical Directors or Section Heads. Our ideas are still there. Our innovation, creativity, empathy, connectedness, and integrity still embodies us. What happened?
Where are we? Take my field for example, medicine. We fought to get into medical school. We studied to pass boards. We take amazing care of our patients, and we literally SAVE LIVES, as women, every day. But where are the leaders? Why are we not the ones dictating call schedules and salary and the structure of medicine and negotiating contracts and instituting quality and defining standards? I know there are some women doing these things, and my guess is they feel rather lonely at times. But where are we?
My passion in the last few years has changed. I do not want to move forward without other women whom I believe make excellent leaders. I do not want to move forward alone, without talented, brilliant, focused, kind, funny, strong, intelligent, leaders! That's what many of you are and can be! Do you see yourself as such? I just ask that today, you stop, and ask yourself...am I hiding? Am I "falling off?" Please do not limit yourself. And do not let others limit you. We need you! I need you!
There are many types of leaders. Some lead from behind, like goalies, making incredible saves and keeping the team in the running. Some lead from the front, scoring goals and getting everyone on the team ahead. Some lead from the sidelines, coaching, teaching, encouraging, instructing. But they all LEAD. That is what makes the fact both women and men leading SO great. Our differences! Let us celebrate them. Not compare, tear down, mark up, or discourage.
I am saying this: women, we need to support male leaders. Good leaders, no matter what gender, need our support! Most people leading are men, and we need them to change the culture, change the jobs, and change the norms. We as women need to support them, not tear them down. We also need to step up and show our talent, our brains and commitment; we need men to recognize our abilities and say YES to women in leadership.
I am not the world’s guru on leadership. But I do know I feel like I've been running a marathon for 10 years now, and I started out with some amazing running partners. Somewhere some of my tribe fell off and stopped running. Some may have been injured. Some pushed. Or some gave up, thinking they did not deserve to go forward, the obstacles too high. Some were shut down when they asked for help. I understand not all women want to lead, but I find it hard to believe in a time where most medical schools have 40-50% female students, only 3-5% of those women will lead in medicine "by choice".
I want to encourage men to be #heforshes. I want to encourage women to support their leaders, male or female. I want to encourage women to say yes to leadership, not to even the playing field, but for one simple reason: I know many women who would make great leaders. Period. We need an open door, and an invite to get back in the race.
Get back to it ladies. Tie your shoes. The open road awaits.