Promoting Leadership for Women in Academic Medicine

Mar 7, 2017
Author: 
Jocelyn Lagerquist

Panelists speak during the Department of Medicine’s inaugural Summit for Women in Academic Medicine. More than 150 women contributed to the development of an action plan to increase gender equity and advance the professional success of women in academic medicine, during the Department of Medicine’s inaugural Summit for Women in Academic Medicine.

The Summit, held on March 1 and 2, gave U of T Department of Medicine medical students, residents and faculty members a platform to share personal experiences, respond to multiple barriers in academic medicine, and hear from women in leadership positions around the globe.

“Women are creative and innovative and we need to ensure our voices are heard in healthcare,” explained Dr. Sharon Straus, who co-organized the Summit and is the Department of Medicine’s Vice-Chair of Mentorship, Equity and Diversity. “To do that, we need to create opportunities for women to lead in academic medicine.”

The Summit was intended to address the chronic lack of women in leadership roles in healthcare. As Straus and Department of Medicine Chair, Professor Gillian Hawker, wrote about in their March 2016 Chair’s Column: The Current State of Women in Internal Medicine.

Discussions around gender biases, career progression, work-life balance, power and vulnerability, and diversity emerged from the town hall. Panels on leadership and “mythbusting” were also held.

“This is just the beginning of a conversation about valuing all members of the medical profession,” noted Hawker, the Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor and Chair of Medicine. “I want to ensure we are not consciously or unconsciously disadvantaging under-represented groups and start brainstorming solutions to drive change.”

Keynote speakers included, University of Toronto Professor Sarah Kaplan, who discussed the gender biased lenses academics frame meritocracy through, Dr. Trish Groves, Director of Outreach and Advocacy for BMJ, discussed the idea good leadership is rooted in resiliency rather than perfection. Panelists also included women from a variety of professions, including CBC journalist Mary Ito, leadership and performance trainer Christine McLeod, Dr. Pamela Valentine, the Interim CEO of Alberta Innovates, and Ellen DiVerniero, Aetna’s Head of Talent Management.

“This Summit has brought together a room full of smart, thoughtful women who also have great breadths of experience in life,” said Dr. Shelley Dev, an assistant professor in the Department. “But what I’m finding amazing is that people in different stages of their careers are really talking about what the challenges are in academic medicine, and they’re identifying which challenges are the same, but also which ones have changed. There’s a process of reflection that’s happening in the moment.”

Assistant Professor Shail Rawal, who practices internal medicine at the University Health Network, was encouraged by the shared vision of inclusion. “When I know there are 150 women in a room who may feel similarly about issues that I care about, I’m going to feel more comfortable speaking up and being a voice at a table,” noted Rawal. “It’s really heartening to be around people who are reflecting on the type of communities they want to be a part of and are bringing the conversation to a place of inclusion.”

The Department of Medicine’s vision for the Summit for Women for Academic Medicine is that will be opened up to broader audiences of both women and men, and serve as a model for additional Department of Medicine diversity and equity summits.

To advance the work begun at the Summit, the Women in Academic Medicine Fund has been established to further future summits. Contributions are being accepted online.

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