More Than One


It all started when…

I walk in the room and sit down. People are taking their seats, grabbing last-minute coffees from the station in the corner of the room. It’s a hustle and bustle. I look around the room and realize – I am the only woman. 


This is a common occurrence, being the only woman. Many times, there is another woman; however, she’s not a physician. She is a support staff, an administrator, or a nurse. 

But often, I am the only woman physician leader.

This does not just happen to me at committee meetings, national conferences, or faculty dinners. This also happens to me when I’ve interviewed for different positions at different institutions. 

“Wow. You must have an impressive resume. You are the only woman they are interviewing,” said one admin assistant who was taking me from point A to point B during one set of interviews. “Everyone is very impressed with you.”

There have been times when I have realized I am the “only” woman and I have thought to myself: be proud! You made it to the table

But mostly – internally – I cringe.

In an earlier piece I wrote, called Can We count on You, I explained how I am much more engaged with my teammates when I am not the only woman in the room. Not because if there is another woman I will agree with her, or we will have some special camaraderie. It actually has nothing to do with her, her views, or her expertise. 

I am more me, more engaged, because having more than one woman means I am more valued. It says more to me about the leaders in the room – who statistically speaking are the men in the room. It says they value women leaders and women’s opinions; that they invite women to the table, that they value diverse thinking, and they value different opinions and backgrounds.

It says they value me.

And thus, do you know what happens? I speak up more. I share more data. I am more confident that others want to hear my innovations and ideas, and that they value my expertise.

If you are a leader: isn’t that the what you want from everyone in the room? To bring their A game? To feel valued?

Since I have started speaking and writing more on gender in medicine, I have received quite a bit of feedback. 

Some are from well-meaning colleagues who are confused as to why I am speaking up; they see me as a successful “woman in medicine” and ask me why I’m risking my reputation by shining a light on gender issues.  

“Don’t let this become your soapbox,” one colleague told me. “You don’t want to be known for this issue,” he warned. He was being kind actually, as he cares about me. He is aware of the backlash I would face. And I have.  

I also have received feedback from leaders in medicine – both men and women – who want to improve things in their cultures and departments and organizations.  “What is the FIRST thing we can do?”  they often ask.

After reviewing the literature and speaking to people for a few years now, I typically tell them two things:

  1. Take a look at your salary structures. The single biggest inequality you can instantly correct is to pay women what you pay men for the same work. Dig deep; look at everything. Own any past mistakes and correct them – pronto. It will speak volumes.

    And the second, 

  2. Make your motto this: More than one. More than one woman at the table. More than one woman speaking on the panel. More than one woman for the job interview. More than one woman on the committee. More than one woman resident in the match. More than one woman fellow. More than one woman in leadership. More than one woman on the team. More than one…more than one…more than one.

Do you get it?

Research published in HBR that studied 598 applicants for an academic position found that when there was one woman in a candidate pool of 4, she was wasting her time.1 There was a ZERO percent chance she would get the job. However; if there was more than one woman (two) in the candidate pool: the odds of selecting a woman increases to 79.14...

Essentially, more than one woman is key. It is a HUGE step in the right direction. It is doable, equitable, and sustainable.

You want to make a difference? 

Pick more than one.

  1. (Johnson et al)