All too often, women feel the need to compete with each other. And, the medical field is no different. If anything, for so long, in our field, there was a sense of hyper competitiveness.
I think this comes from it being a male dominated field for a very long time. Likely stemming from the fact that women were initially competing with each other for limited spots in these fields. Some women
My residency class in ophthalmology was 6 women out of 7. And, overall, I thought it was a great experience. But, there was always this perception that as women, we would be more competitive with each other, than with men. That we would be pitted against each other, fighting each other for surgical cases or the attention of our senior attendings. That would behave in a catty manner or gossip. Sure, there was some of that.
But, overall, I felt that we supported each other when it truly counted. My grandmother, who lived with us when I was growing up, was in the ICU my 3rd year of residency. I got a phone call in the middle of clinic on a Friday from my parents that she would likely pass that night. I looked at my co-resident in horror and she said “Go, I got it.” And, that was it. I sped to La Guardia and hopped on a plane to D.C. and was able to be there when she passed. She could have reacted differently – it was a lot of work I was leaving her with, but she reacted in an empathetic manner. And, I think that’s the true advantage of being surrounded by women. Despite what others thought of our female dominated residency class, we were a team.
So, how do we encourage this more? If you follow me on Instagram, you know one of my mantras is “Lift As We Rise”. I even put it on a t-shirt. I’m a firm believer that if you’ve made it, you should give another woman a hand. Supporting other women does not mean that I’m anti-male. Far from it. However, as a woman in a surgical sub specialty, in an extremely male dominated physician community here, I know that I encounter hurdles that my husband (also an ophthalmologist) has not.
How do we create a culture of queens who fix each other’s crowns?
Recognize that you have something to offer.
I think most women don’t realize how much they truly have to offer. You may think that you haven’t achieved enough to dispense advice or mentor someone else. Absolutely, not true. Your experiences make you unique. And, others can learn from them. Make yourself available to those junior to you. You might just be suprirised at how many take you up on your offer.
Sometimes all that’s needed for a woman to overcome an obstacle is support. And, that support can be emotional or a simple text checking in. I have a friend from social media. I have never met her in real life, yet, she is the biggest supporter in the world. When I launched my clothing store, she was THE first person who purchased items. When I hosted a charity event, she immediately called in and purchased something over the phone. Real, honest to goodness support. Be that kind of friend for someone.
Treat success as a collaborative effort.
Another woman’s success doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Think of it as one more step towards our cause of advancing and promoting women in the workplace. Gender bias, unfortunately, still exists in every field. If we want to combat this, we have to do so together. We have to rid ourselves of the mentality that we are competing for limited resources. Change the mindset. Your friend got a book deal? Or invited to speak at a big conference? Or has 100K Instagram followers? Or published in the NEJM? Celebrate her.
Amplify each other.
Amplification is all about women helping women to make sure their voices are heard. Ever felt talked over by men at a meeting? Or that man takes credit for your ideas? Amplification, started by White House aides during Obama’s tenure, is professional way to combat this type of sexism. When a woman makes an important point or suggestion in a meeting, but that point is either ignored or immediately shot down, other women repeat the first woman’s idea, giving clear support and credit to its source.
This happened to me at our monthly ophthalmology society meeting. I brought up a motion to create a women’s group within the society, to address the unique needs of female surgeons. I envisioned this new group as a place for more senior female ophthalmologists to mentor the younger generation in a social setting. Immediately, two of the senior male ophthalmologist countered expressing their belief that there was no need for such an organization.
However, the secretary of the society had made sure to contact all the women ophthalmologists (there were 8 out of 80) earlier and told them to attend the meeting. They AMPLIFIED my message and our idea was heard, and soon other men in the group were voicing their support as well. Guess what? We received funding to start our group! It was a team effort and helped us achieve our end goal. HOWL! (Hawaii Ophthalmic Women Leaders – our new name)
Treat each other with grace.
Our lives as women, professionals, stay at home moms, singles, however we define ourselves – are busy. Sometimes we fall and fail in our friendships or in our commitments to others. Just remember to treat each other (and yourself) with grace. Be gentle.
And, I’ll end with that. We can lift as we rise, if we stop viewing other women as competition and more as a community. That is certainly how I’ve gotten to where I am today.