(Editor’s Note: This is the last of 3 articles written by Dr. Shahina Braganza, an Australian FemInEM. Her contribution was inspired by our recent SMACC talk which will be available via podcast by the end of the summer.)
I am now going to add some brief stories and insights that have given me personal glimpses of gender bias in medicine. If I were to be contentious (and I will be), I would say that most of the gender bias I have witnessed and experienced has come from other, usually senior, females. And this has been outside of Emergency Medicine
In my leadership role, it was often suggested that I was too young and too early in my career to be the Director of Clinical Training (despite being a Senior Staff Specialist); the examples espoused of other proximate Directors were invariably older males towards the end of their clinical careers.
I suspect that many of these senior female leaders have fought hard to reach positions of seniority and have had or have developed arguably aggressive traits. I have given careful thought to whether I am employing my own gender bias in viewing typical leadership traits as negative or unattractive in females. Perhaps I am, even just a little.
Equally, I have had female mentors who have encouraged and enabled me to step beyond my comfort zones: to risk failure or embarrassment in the knowledge that at least they think I have a reasonable chance of success.
In my leadership role, I had a female executive director whom I now recognise was providing agency for me in my early development as a health leader. Before I was familiar with the concepts, or cognisant of their value, she was cultivating my “profile” and stealthily setting up opportunities for my own development and progress. I recognise that one of the reasons I remain connected with her is that I know that she “gets it” – the struggle for life-work balance, the ethically courageous vision, the challenge and complexity of managerial structure in health organisations.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and advocate for gender equality in the home and at work, says that if women can’t see it, they can’t be it. My female mentors have helped me to see it. And hopefully I am now being it, so that others can see it.
I aspire to be a [female] leader who maintains humility and a firm but gentle approach. I aspire to be a [female] leader who is not afraid of vulnerability, but derives strength and power from it. I aspire to be a [female] leader who is approachable and compassionate. I aspire to be a [female] leader who is secure in her fallibility, and brave enough to dare greatly.
I concede that gender bias will at times be overt, unjust and always unfounded. In many case, it may be insurmountable. I agree that this is unacceptable and we, as women and men in the health profession must actively work to advocate against bias or discrimination on any grounds.
But I wonder whether sometimes, an arguably neutral exchange might be influenced by our own attitudes and perception as female health professionals. Might it be possible sometimes to choose not to experience it? Perhaps to not buy into it and to not invest undue emotion into interactions that may be perceived as offensive? Perhaps we can choose to dismiss and to move on. Just sometimes.