I often speak on stages at conferences. I am often the only woman and sit on what some have called “manels.” I love to teach large groups, and I enjoy medical and leadership conferences.
I used to take pride being “the only woman” on stage.
For years I would be on panels, and I would be the only woman. Many times I was given the “case presentation.” The more serious panel topics, the ones requiring theoretical knowledge of “science” and research, were given to my male colleagues.
After a few years, I started turning down case presentations. A good friend of mine, a male colleague who I routinely presented with, was surprised. He asked me why I turned down what was seemingly less “work” to prepare and present.
I told him I was tired of being given the non-science talk. I told him I was just as qualified, just as much an expert, and I was done traveling miles away and giving only the case presentation. I had a secondary research degree.
What more did I need?
He started to see it at meetings. It wasn’t just happening to me; it was happening to other women. He was shocked, and he was ashamed.
I was determined to change this. I stayed active in a few societies by choice — and worked my way up to be part of the solution — where I could choose parts of the program and lobby for women and minorities to be on stages.
When I have brought this up to my colleagues who are in leadership, often their first reaction is: “But Sasha, we want good speakers, regardless of sex or race. Should it matter?”
That’s exactly my point.
If you are putting together a program where 80 to 85 percent of the speakers and moderators are white males, what is your message? If your selection is based on the “best speaker/content expert” rule, your message is clear:
Those are men.
Something to think about.
I have sat on “manels” and been given the “least science” talk, while simultaneously holding the most publications about the topic.
If that doesn’t feel like discrimination, I don’t know what does.
Two years ago I made the conscious decision it wasn’t about me anymore. I couldn’t say quiet about this discrimination because I didn’t want to risk retaliation, exclusion, or upsetting the status quo.
What made me change?
My daughter. She is smart and witty and brilliant.
I want her to shine. I want her future to be bright. I want her to stand on a stage and deliver the science.
So, I put aside the promise of my own success by speaking out about gender equity. If I had a dollar for every well-meaning colleague — men and women — who warned me against taking a stand for inequity, I would be able to retire. So many people said, “Sasha, you have found success! Why speak out?”
I can’t imagine the talks I could have given and promotions I could have received if I had the same opportunities early in my career as my male colleagues. I worked so hard to get to where I am. Nothing but pure effort. Yes, I fought through. Yes, I found a way to navigate the discouragement of facing biases. But you know what? They are there. And they don’t have to be.
I have a limited amount of time in my day to donate to professional organizations. I’ve made a conscious decision to only give my time and money to those who listen to my concerns about biases and are interested in being part of the solution.
I have withdrawn from societies where that interest isn’t present. Where lip service is there, but the numbers speak loud.
Women are often not asked to speak simply because no one has heard them on a stage, or seen them handle themselves on a stage.
Ask yourself: Why is that?
It is time we put women on panels and stages and let them speak science. Women deserve promotion, and national recognition is classically required for promotion to associate and full professor status.
I challenge you to look at your own societies.
What does their speakership say?
Sasha K. Shillcutt is an anesthesiologist who blogs at Brave Enough.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com