Raise your hand if you have ever had a male peer interrupt you. Were you in the middle of expressing a cogent thought? Did you have a knowledgeable opinion? Is there any chance that the interrupter had less knowledge on the topic than you? Is there a chance the interrupter had NO knowledge on the topic?
Now raise your hand if you have ever expressed an idea that was totally ignored UNTIL a man said the exact same thing. Did that same man take credit for the original idea later? Are you all raising your hands? Both times? That is what I thought.
As a pre-medical student, I am constantly striving to prove to myself and the world that I deserve to be here. I am frequently cutoff by my male peers. They, frankly, think they always know better.
I would bet most women have had a similar experience. It is an experience that unfortunately, does not improve with professional advancement. The Washington Post recently published an article profiling top female staffers in the Obama White House.1 These women are accomplished enough to sit next to the President of the United States, yet they struggle to make their voices heard in this male dominated field. Clearly, this is a problem.
According to the article, when Obama took office in 2009, women made up about one-third of the top aides.1 Under the Reagan administration, 28 years earlier, women were only 5% of the total executive staff.2
We see increasing numbers of women working in medicine as well. Today 34% of physicians are women, up from 7.6% in 1970.3, 4 Nearly half of medical school graduates today are female.5 While these numbers are encouraging, the number of women in leadership positions is lagging. According to the AAMC, women make up 16% of medical school deans, 15% of department chairs and 22% of tenured professors. 6 So how do we fix this and make our voices heard?
We can learn a lesson from the female White House staffers. Despite their presence in the strategy room, women found their voices drowned out. In order to combat this, these female staffers created a strategy that they called “amplification.” As described in the article, when one woman expressed a good idea, the other women in the room would amplify this point by repeating it while crediting its original author. This acknowledgement “forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution – and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.” 1 These women made amplification a habit during their meetings. After some time, Obama noticed and started calling on women and junior aides more often.
As the FemInEM intern, I went to ACEP16 in Las Vegas and had the privilege to attend the AAWEP meeting. This group of incredibly intelligent women is dedicated to working together and making each other’s voices heard. It was an inspiring experience for an aspiring female physician such as myself. What is more, whether they knew it or not, they were amplifying. I understand that it may be easy and natural to amplify in a room of mostly women, but much harder in a room of mostly men. We must strive to apply this technique when men outnumber us as well. By doing this, perhaps we can begin to eliminate the gender disparities that continue to persist in leadership positions in medicine. I was inspired and hopeful as I watched these women, these FemInEMs, who are on an effective path towards gender equity in EM leadership.
- Juliet Eilperin. “White House women want to be in the room where it happens.” The Washington Post. September 13, 2016.
- Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, Ph.D and Stephan Hess. “The Contemporary Presidency: The Bush White House: First Appraisals.” The Brookings Institution. September 1, 2002.
- Jessica Freedman, MD. “Women in Medicine: Are We “There” Yet?” Medscape. November 16, 2010.
- “Distribution of Physicians by Gender.” Kaiser Family Foundation. September 2016.
- “Distribution of Medical School Graduates by Gender.” Kaiser Family Foundation. 2015.
- “The State of Women in Academic Medicine: The Pipeline and Pathways to Leadership, 2013-2014.” Association of American Medical Associations.