I read the article by Peggy Klaus (13 August 2016) in the New York Times, “Sisterhood is not enough: why workplace equality needs men, too” with much interest.
Over the course of my medical and undergraduate studies I have taken great comfort in the support and experiences of the women around me. I relished the ‘Women in Emergency Medicine’ evenings throughout residency when we would get together, usually over dinner and a few bottles of wine and share our ‘war stories’, everything ranging from stories from the shop floor (what do you say when the patient continues to call you nurse even after you’ve introduced yourself as doctor and provided extensive medical care?) to tactics for negotiating contracts or dealing with dismissive/condescending colleagues. Many of my pivotal career decisions have been shaped and molded by these conversations. My development as a doctor has been gently (and at times a little less than gently) guided by women who are my mentors, either explicitly or implicitly. They have talked me through work-life balance (there is none, just on ongoing flux), guided me with publications and writing, and helping with changing jobs and my ultimate decision to set off adventuring. Of course there are men who have been instrumental along the way as well, but it is the women who I find myself drawn to for an emotional and less calculated guidance. There is an enormous amount to be gained from this sisterhood and its shared knowledge and Klaus does not discount this experience. She does however point to the flaws in an over reliance on women’s only events indicating that they can be a superficial bandaid that, while ticking some diversity box, at the heart they will not get at the root of the problem. Klaus calls for a change in culture that can only be achieved with buy in and support of ‘the men who hold the power.’
I don’t know how this was received by the rest of the NY Times readership; I imagine that our reactions are dramatically affected by our experience – both in work and life. But I would think that it is difficult to argue with the point that equality is not a women-only issue. Klaus referenced the ‘daughter effect’ – “studies showing that male leaders with daughters are more likely to close the gender pay gap and be attuned to women’s rights issues.” On a personal level I am quite certain that as my father watched my trajectory and struggles, heard my stories and frustrations, he was made more aware of those of the women around him, and I can only hope that the women at his law firm have benefitted accordingly.
These ruminations do not in any way diminish the mission of women’s platforms and leadership courses. On the contrary, while I believe (strongly) in the value of women’s-only support and mentoring opportunities, I also see the immense value in forcing these challenges to the forefront of everyone’s experience.
The development of our culture, both within medicine as well as without, is heavily reliant upon us to drive it. If we, as women, partners, mothers, sisters and care providers are able to continue to stimulate conversation that broadens the understanding of those around us and opens people’s eyes then we will ultimately enrich everyone’s experience.
Our power lies not only in the living of the experience, but in the sharing of it. I was deeply affected by the FemInEm presentation at SMACCDUB – having driven, intelligent and successful women stand up and share their successes and frustrations resonated not only with me, but with the entire room (of men and women) and was readily apparent during the standing ovation.
For every man who is a position of power, there is a proud mother, or sister or daughter or wife who has helped to make it possible. None of us achieve great things alone and all of our achievements are magnified and heightened by a supportive community. Wouldn’t it be great for us all if we created an environment and culture of care that was not tied to gender. Then we would all have a lot to be proud of.