What it Feels Like for a Girl

I am fortunate to have been accepted into the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM®) program, as part of the 2017-18 class – the 23rd cohort. This program is for women in medicine, public health, and dentistry, and to be eligible, it is required that you have held the rank of associate professor for at least 2 years, and that you already have a leadership role in your institution. The group of ELAM alumnae (ELUM) are impressive – with ELAM alumnae holding executive leadership positions at 240 academic health institutions. Among the women who have completed the program, 64 re now Chief Executives/Academic Officers (Presidents/Chief Executive Officers, Executive Directors, Provosts, Chancellors); 26 are Deans: 11 of 28 women Deans of Medical Schools, 6 of the 12 women Deans at Dental Schools, and 2 of the 13 women Deans at Schools of Public Health. Additionally, 7 ELAM graduates are Deans of US graduate schools. Many ELAM alumnae hold other leadership roles, such as Associate Deans, Center Directors or Department Chairs. This amazing group of women are not slackers! Now, this would probably be a good time to mention correlation vs. causation: it is likely that women who are high achieving and have considerable ambition are more likely to apply for and be accepted into ELAM, so I’m not suggesting that participating in ELAM causes someone to become a Dean, but rather only that there is a correlation between participating in this program and future leadership. Anyway, ELAM is a year-long intensive leadership program, requiring 3 week-long residency sessions throughout the year (one in September, one in January, and one in April). And if academic medicine/public health isn’t your thing, but academic technology or engineering is, you should check out the ELATE (Executive Leadership in Academic Technology and Engineering) program, open to women in engineering, computer science math, physics, chemistry, or other high technology fields.

When I tell people that I’m participating in this program, I often am asked one of two questions. The first is “Do you want to be a Dean?” There is a strong history of statisticians ascending into Deanships, including women (e.g. Rebecca Doerge, Montserrat FuentesSally Morton). In fact, at a recent conference, I was talking with a former professor of mine, and he said he was having a conversation with a few others about all the women in our profession who have recently become Deans, and who might be likely to. He said that my name was mentioned among those who might be likely to one day be a Dean. It was very complimentary and flattering, but the truth is, I don’t know if I want to be a Dean. Almost halfway through my term as Chair, I am really enjoying what I’m doing! I have the ability to help set the direction for my Department, the opportunity to impact the growth and development of the faculty and staff in the Department, and have the honor of representing my Department to those within and outside of my institution. Yet, at the same time, I’m able to teach (which you may remember I love to do from previous posts), I get to work with students and post docs, and I have the time to pursue my own research and collaborate with others. It isn’t clear to me what the balance of my time would be like as a Dean, and how much of my time would be truly be my own. One of the reasons I applied to ELAM was to explore what leadership opportunities are available to me beyond Chair, to have a better understanding of what they entail, and to determine what I would need to do to prepare for those roles, should I desire to obtain one.

The second question I’ve been asked more than once when I tell people that I’m participating in ELAM is: “Why do we need leadership training exclusive to women?” or some variation on that theme. In fact, that same former professor, in reference to programs geared at increasing diversity in my field, asked “Is being an academic really that different for women?” You can imagine that I’m not being asked this by other women. But sarcasm aside, this is definitely something I’ve thought about. For years, actually. I once participated in a women’s leadership program for rising leaders in the Jewish community in my old hometown. I thought a lot about the need for leadership training exclusively for women then, and I continue to grapple with the necessity for this. Hopefully one day we won’t need to have leadership programs that are exclusively for women. Hopefully one day, there will be a spectrum of leaders with a spectrum of leadership styles, and we’ll be able to value each individual’s strengths and mold them into leaders. Hopefully one day, the proportion of women in leadership will reflect the proportion of women being led. But right now, the gender make-up of our leaders still doesn’t match the gender make-up of our trainees or our workforce across a variety of fields. Despite the that the US population is 50.9% female (according to 2010 census data), still only 21% of US senators and 20% of our US representatives are female. Women are earning 36% of the MBAs in the US, but only 4.2% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women. Academics isn’t much better, while the proportion of university presidents who are women has been steadily increasing over 20 years, women still only represent 30% of university presidents, despite more women graduating from college than men. ACPS2017-Figure10In my field, biostatistics, approximately 50% of PhDs are awarded to women (and this has been fairly constant over time); however, when I scan the list of Chairs of Biostatistics departments in North America, only 31% are female. The numbers look worse when you consider statistics jointly with biostatistics.

But these are “just” statistics. Perhaps fewer women are in leadership because fewer women desire leadership roles. Then it is time to stop and ask why that is? What image are we portraying as leaders that makes these roles undesirable to other women? Does it appear that in order to lead an organization, you have to sacrifice having a family? Or sacrifice spending time with your family? Does leadership have to be all-consuming, leaving little time for hobbies and leisure? Does being a leader mean that you have to be cold and unfeeling? Do you have to buy a whole new wardrobe in order to lead? And what about the shoes!? These are questions that everyone considering leadership has to ask themselves, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation… regardless of who they are. But the perceived answers differ according to each of our experiences, and it is impossible to separate our experiences from who we are. I am a woman, who has experienced sexual assault and discrimination based on my gender. Who has been talked over and ignored in meetings. Who has been asked, repeatedly, whether I’m a little young to do the job that I’m very ably doing; whereas my male colleagues have not. All of this shapes who I am, my desire to lead, and how I lead. And these experiences are not unique to me, but are shared by many other women. We_Can_Do_It!I have female colleagues who have been told that they should stop coloring their hair, as they’ll be taken more seriously if they let their gray show. Others who have been told not to wear what is comfortable to them, if they want to be taken seriously. Until my male colleagues are told that they should stop wearing jeans to work if they want to be taken seriously, until their input is repeatedly minimized in meetings (even if they ae the expert in the room), until they are treated in the same way women are, we will continue to need leadership programs exclusively for women. Or, when I’m not being cynical, when women in leadership stop being perceived differently than men in leadership, only then we will no longer need leadership programs exclusively for women.

As I begin this year-long journey, I have a lot of different emotions. I’m extremely excited to engage with an amazing group of women leaders, my 2017-18 ELAM cohort, from whom I will learn and with whom I will learn. I’m excited, and a little nervous, to learn more about me, about how to use my strengths and compensate for my weaknesses to become a better leader. I’m worried about packing for a week. I’m a statistician, in a school of public health, and this is a program geared towards women in academic medicine – what if I stand out clearly as the statistician in the room based solely on my wardrobe? I’m nervous about the huge amount of time I’ve committed to invest in this program – in addition to the residency weeks, there is a tremendous amount of time required for readings, developing and carrying out an institutional project, and having meetings with the leadership in my home institution. I’m sad about being away from my family for a week, missing soccer games and back to school night, and who knows what else. Despite enjoying travel, a full week is a long time to be gone. However, I’m confident that the rewards will make it worth it. Even if I never become a Dean or a University President or the US President or anything more than what I am now, the skills I’m going to learn will help me be a better me. And what more can any of us ask for?

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