Indeed, despite one third of surgical trainees being women, only eight percent of full professors in surgery are women. Even fewer of these women go on to hold important leadership positions such as serving as department chairs: there are only three women chairs of departments of surgery in the United States.
She negates the idea that men work harder than women or that men are more qualified than women and thus are more likely to succeed. However, she discusses an interesting study which reminds me of an earlier post by Morghan. As Dr. Salles explains:
The article argues that women face a stereotype that their ability is inferior to that of their male colleagues. The stereotype leads to a taxing dynamic: there’s pressure to perform at the highest level — with patient lives at stake — while constantly feeling like others doubt your ability. My research shows that when women believe others endorse this negative stereotype, our mental health deteriorates. Likewise, when we believe men are better surgeons than women, we experience physical health problems, such as gastrointestinal distress or low back pain.
Then I found out that two significant people on the project thought my day-saving efforts were “bitchy” and, while ultimately appropriate, unacceptable on any future projects. At first I thought I’d done something terrible, but after some soul searching I realized these people would not have responded this way if a man had acted as I had. I remembered how often I’d been told to smile (not something you’d say to a man) and how they had loved me when I was nothing but a servile bucket of sunshine.
Talking about sexism
Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook, author of Lean-In) and Adam Grant (UPenn) have teamed up to write a series of four articles regarding women and work. Two of these have been published, the first titled “When Talking About Bias Backfires.” Sandberg and Grant outline how spreading information about stereotypes can actually perpetuate and enhance them. Disseminating this information can lead individuals to think discriminatory behavior is common, socially acceptable, and thus permissible for them to perform as well. They detail some studies exploring this phenomenon, and I suggest you check out the entirety of the article.
When we communicate that a vast majority of people hold some biases, we need to make sure that we’re not legitimating prejudice. By reinforcing the idea that people want to conquer their biases and that there are benefits to doing so, we send a more effective message: Most people don’t want to discriminate, and you shouldn’t either.
Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings. As this and other research shows, women who worry that talking “too much” will cause them to be disliked are not paranoid; they are often right.
Feminism in medicine and the workplace
Medicine is a bastion of prejudice against women. Mild mannered men and “foreign doctors” are targeted too for the type of behavior described in this article and in Medicine, when women are not allowed to speak, patients suffer… At medical conferences women can have their hands raised for ever to speak and be ignored. When they are allowed to speak they are often rudely interrupted…What is worse, female speakers and females in power practice the same prejudice against women that the men do. Men and women in power are threatened by the ambitious, knowledgeable and up and coming lower echelon … This behavior is practiced to disconcert, divide, enervate and deliberately frustrate underlings and those who don’t belong to the “tribe” or network in power. It comes from the belief that sharing power is the equivalent of diluting power. Audacious questions, probing ones, dissenting opinions and contentious or discomfiting observations are not brooked from either gender, especially if those talking and dissenting are not “important.”
I would also like to point out something from both Dr. Srinivasan’s comment and the Sandberg/Grant article: gender discrimination can come from both males and females. Dr. Srinivasan writes, “What is worse, female speakers and females in power practice the same prejudice against women that the men do.” Studies quoted by Sandberg and Grant mention “When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.” This calls into question one of Sandberg and Grant’s methods of change, namely that increasing the numbers of women in leadership roles will provide a more female-friendly work environment. Multiple factors can underlie this phenomenon: perhaps only the most competitive women have succeeded thus far, competitive women who are ill-equipped to provide a nurturing work environment. Whatever the reasons, this questions the effectiveness of Sandberg and Grant’s recommendations for future change.
Thus, what is the best way for me, as student and later a resident, to talk about and confront the nuanced sexism I may encounter? How can I speak out and be effectively heard by those who are not interested in listening? How can I speak out without negatively affecting my performance evaluations and ruining my career aspirations? How can I use my skills (as a female) to advance medicine and provide the highest quality care for my patients?
To break down the barriers that hold women back, it’s not enough to spread awareness. If we don’t reinforce that people need — and want — to overcome their biases, we end up silently condoning the status quo. (Talking About Bias)
when women challenged the old system and suggested a new one, team leaders viewed them as less loyal and were less likely to act on their suggestions. (Speaking While Female)
Society at large, like my friend, may not understand why feminism is still necessary. This “nuanced sexism” may be more hidden and subtle, but it is nonetheless damaging to the physical and emotional health of women. It is also damaging to our workforce and the efficacy of our health services. Thus, we need to talk about bias and discrimination; we need to talk about feminism. We need to find effective ways to have female voices heard without remaining dependent on the theoretical change-of-heart of professional leaders or future changes to our hierarchical structure. I am still perplexed as how to find these viable strategies. Perhaps what we need is a male/female brainstorm session where both sets of ideas are equally valued … but how we get to that point is beyond me.