ESTHER CHOO: I was so honored and excited to be up there on the FIX stage with two men I truly admire and emulate. It was a nice opportunity for me to share my thoughts and experiences about championing change. And it was really great to hear how thoughtful and invested both of you are in addressing gender disparities in the healthcare workforce.  

I’d love to hear from you two how you felt our panel went! How was that experience being up there on that stage?

MICHAEL GISONDI: I can’t say how honored I was to be invited to FIX and included in the Champions of Change Panel. It was intimidating for me to participate, because gender equity is an issue that I am still learning about – and I am no expert. As a child, I was raised in a household in which I regarded my parents as equals. Throughout school, there were always girls (and later women) that outperformed the boys and who kept me on my game. Then when I arrived in residency, I was among 7 men and 1 women in my intern class. It was there, in medicine, that I first witnessed the inequity of women in my chosen profession. In medicine, I watch my female colleagues erroneously referred to as nurses – despite introductions, nametags, and white coats that display otherwise. In medicine, my female colleagues will on average earn less money, receive less promotions, and hold less leadership roles. This is despite spending more time mentoring and coaching trainees, and more time caring for patients.

ADAM BROWN: First, I was so honored to be a part of the inaugural FIX17 conference and to be a part of such an esteemed panel. Unlike Michael, I did not grow up in a family where men and women held equal positions. I came from eastern North Carolina where gender roles were defined and reinforced at a very early age. Gender imprinting started early. Girls’ rooms were pink with dolls and unicorns and boys’ rooms were blue with GI Joes and cowboys. My male role models typically fit the mold as laborers, business professionals, and church leaders; women were supporters of those positions. Rarely did I see a female in a position of leadership – not in business, not in schools, and certainly not at church. This social construct – males go here and women go there – was reinforced in all aspects of life (despite having a mother who ran her own auto parts business). At church, outings were categorized by gender – men went to fellowship events like car races, camping and baseball games; women went on shopping trips or to plays and concerts. I often heard our church minister say, “The Bible instructs women to be silent in the church”. At our church, women could not speak at a business meetings, “preach from the pulpit” or lead prayers if men were in attendance. (I often wondered what his wife thought. I wondered what my mom thought.)

For me, there was dissonance in gender roles since I failed to confirm to all of the societal rules. I played piano, excelled in school, made woven baskets, worked as a tour guide in high school, and sang in our choir. I failed miserably at baseball, basketball and golf. Unfortunately, this gender role “lane regulation” did not stop at church or at home. In high school, I remember our male headmaster chastise women for “not dressing modestly”, measuring the length of their skirt to ensure the dress reached two inches below the knee.  Women could be reported for immodest dress by anyone. Before Homecoming, each female had to get their dress “approved” while the males were free to rent whatever they wanted. Why? I thought. Even then, despite my age and upbringing, I thought the practice was demeaning to girls in a time in their lives where body image and social status was so vitally important and formative. These experiences (and at time cognitive dissonances) set the stage for how I would question the formulaic gender prescription prescribed to me as a child.  

And suddenly there I was, on a stage, in New York, one of three or four males surrounded by an audience of more than 200 women leaders – some future, some present – on a panel talking about gender equity. Clearly, my upbringing would have portended a different path.

EC: What did you think the ‘big messages’ from our panel were?

MG: The ‘big messages’ from our session were several. First, men have a responsibility to fostering fair, safe, and equitable professional environments for their female colleagues. Surprising to some in the audience, men like Adam and I are interested and engaged in this process already. Second, leaders need to be trained how to manage this issue – and this includes female leaders. Women can create hostile workplaces for other women, perhaps less intentionally, but just as easily. We should educate and mentor our leaders to rise to the challenges of gender equity. And lastly, equity – as an issue of diversity and inclusion – directly impacts the psychological safety and health of our workplaces. Safe workplace environments lead to improved markers of success in academic medicine, as well as better patient care.

AB: I wanted to share the experience of realizing that the stories and frameworks of my youth may not be accurate, and how just beginning to challenge those gender normative constructs is truly eye opening. My desire to focus on women’s issues and equity in the workplace started in medical school. In my class, we had a near 50/50 split between men and women. Many of the women in medical school could beat me academically. Many of them had just as much leadership abilities as my male colleagues. Residency was no different with a class of 6 female and 6 male residents. At each stage of my medical education, I had a strong female leader to again challenge the gender roles I saw growing up. Fortunately, this trend continued as an attending and into administrative leadership. Fast-forward to the present and now, I’m an executive with a national healthcare organization. As a leader, ally and advocate, I recognize the importance of my role in supporting and promoting equality in the workplace and in our profession.

EC: For me, the big walk away was that there *are* allies and advocates for women physicians in major leadership positions, and that just starting the conversation with them can have a huge effect downstream. Hearing about how you both have taken deliberate, meaningful actions to advance the opportunities for women and improve working conditions for them gave me hope that change can happen over time.

Watch the full FIX17 talk below!