Mind the Gap
Sulagna Roy & Noor Al-Lamee
Leadership is desired by many; whether good or bad, it is a role many seek out in order to bring about change. Many a woman will testify to situations where leadership opportunities are either taken away from them or something they are not presented with altogether. But the times are changing and we hope to be a pivotal part of this generation’s leaders within healthcare. The demographics of applicants in healthcare professions has gradually shifted, with increasing female candidates. However there is still a discrepancy in the number of females who then progress onto more senior roles. So what’s stopping us? What are the possible barriers women face within the NHS and how we can overcome them?
One of the main restrictive factors we have identified; is the socially constructed preconceptions of what a woman should be. Based on stereotypical traits such as emotional, nurturing and empathetic- traits which in essence should make the ideal care-giver, but cause people to question our ability or strength to cope under pressure or to be on the frontline of critical care. In reality, we know that this is not the case.
We should not assume that men do not possess these emotional and nurturing traits with equal capacity. These gender stereotypes appear to lessen women’s chances of promotion to more leadership roles and lead to a lack of diversity in leadership.
Moreover, decision-makers of an older generation, There are archaic misconceptions of what a leader should look like. This unconscious bias contributes to decision-makers favouring men. This era must end as equal representation in leadership is vital to everyone’s progression.
It is not all doom and gloom- after reading numerous articles that described women’s negative experiences, we would like to shed a positive light on our experiences within healthcare; based on the inspirational people we were privileged enough to meet and be influenced by. During our placements in surgery, we both had supervisors that broke the stereotype. One was a pejorative. There was one female colorectal surgeon we worked with who was inspirational as she balanced her childcare arrangements so that she could remain committed to the surgical procedures she was engaged in. All the while, making it clear that it is possible to have both a family and be a surgeon. The other, was a male surgeon who very much promoted women within surgery- which is exactly what we need- more men rooting for women and their success!
It is these inspirational clinicians that remind us that “impossible” is just an opinion and we strongly believe that in any profession, the people who mentor you and the team you work with during your training years make a significant impact on your determination later in life.
However, it may be worth mentioning that not all women are fighting for the number one spot. Our main aspiration is not necessarily about achieving the highest ranking job, but in fact, the highest form of respect. The modern challenges women face when balancing work and family life can often lead to some degree of compromise, and this must be respected and not undermined or perceived as a weakness. So next time you’re asked the dreaded question- “what would you like to specialise in?”
Rather than asking yourself, “which role would I fit in, as a woman.” Ask yourself, “which role would I thrive in based on me?” Defining me, as your personality traits, your aspirations from this profession and the type of speciality that might satisfy you on a day-to-day basis. For the variety of specialities within medicine, is what makes it one of the greatest professions of all.
So lets end on what we believe are a few top tips that have most certainly helped us:
Be opportunistic; because seeking new projects only widens your horizon and any experience, is good experience.
Build your support network; ensuring you have the right mentors to guide you.
Do not underestimate the power of your own voice regardless of your status in the workplace.
And finally BE UNCONVENTIONAL!
As Sulagna’s mother always said to her “whatever you put your mind to, you’re going to break the world record for it.” Twenty-five years into our lives and going into one of the most challenging professions, we only hope and aspire others to break the records for the highest number of female leaders within healthcare yet.
Sulagna Roy has been an active student leader in numerous societies within her university. Outside of medical school, Sulagna has networked her way into Events Management and aspires to combine both aspects to create more platforms and opportunities for peoples’ voices to be heard.
Noor Al-Lamee has an avid interest in Global Health, and hopes to specialise in surgery. She has a conviction to developing invaluable skills, that will allow her to break boundaries and be an influential woman by her actions, and not only her voice.
Sulagna Roy & Noor Al-lamee are final year medical students now graduating and embarking on their individual journeys as doctors. We have no doubt that they will be inspiring women in healthcare.