Why would any woman discourage a man’s advocacy or support?

A male interventional radiologist who is active in the #HeForShe campaign recently told me that he is being pressured to stop advocating for women. My first instinct was the biggest sigh and eyeroll of my life followed by thoughts of locker room peer pressure and boys’ club type discussions.

But the criticism did not just come from men; many women are asking him to stop. That they don’t need a knight in shining armor or a protector. That they can do it on their own.

I felt my blood pressure rise and sat cross-legged putting my hands in the gyan mudra position while repeatedly chanting “inner peace” to myself. It’s the only yoga pose I know.

Of course, we can do it on our own; I am not debating this at all. Women in medicine are fortunate this year to have female leadership in ACR, SIR, ACR, and ACS. We can make great strides to Lean In and set ourselves up for success by working twice or three times as hard as men. But without male mentors, sponsors, and supporters, it will take far longer to reach our goals, and there will never truly be a change in the culture of how women are perceived in our field.

Culture is much more difficult to change than law or policy. Desegregation occurred decades ago in the U.S., yet racism is embarrassingly blatant and rampant in this country and many others. Women’s suffrage was ratified in 1920, yet a gender pay gap still exists, and there is a shortage of women in leadership positions. Women continue to be victims of sexual harassment and assault. More alarmingly, women continue to suffer from derogatory consequences for reporting harassment or misconduct. This is far worse in fields with fewer women: for example, pilots, attorneys, legislators. In medicine, these fields include vascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, vascular and interventional radiology, and neurosurgery, among others.

A study of radiologists found that almost 25 percent of female radiologists suffered from sexual harassment. 42 percent of female radiologists witnessed some form of sexual harassment. Alarmingly, only 29 percent of victims of sexual harassment stated that they would likely report. The study did not query how many of the victims actually reported harassment. I am extremely confident that the number is in the single digits.

We cannot have gender equity without changing the perception of women in the workforce. Many studies demonstrate improved outcomes for patients of female physicians and also for companies which embrace diversity. It is easy to find images on the internet or social media demonstrating panels of only men at conferences. Recently at ISET, there was a panel of no fewer than ten men sitting on the stage. Is there truly not one qualified woman to speak on the topic?

For these reasons, I feel it is important that men are actively involved in promoting and advocating for women. There is not one woman on that panel; who then will invite me or one of my women colleagues to speak? In women (WIR) section of the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR), a speaker bureau has tremendously increased the number of women who present at the SIR meeting; however, initially, the committee was approved by a man. Some guy thought it was a great idea … and I agree with him. But without that guy, it would not have happened.

As such, I do not understand why any woman would discourage a man’s advocacy or support. It is selfish, completely counterintuitive, and does not align with gender equity goals. This is a really nice guy who truly believes in diversity; this is the guy want in our corner! Ladies, why? Please tell me why you are discouraging him? Men and women need to work together; there is no “us” and “them.”

I think that the #HeForShe movement is an extremely important facet of the gender equity movement. Nothing will be equitable until “you threw that like a girl” becomes a compliment. Change will not be permanent until derogatory “locker room talk” becomes uncool by the majority of men. Women should not have to be tomboys to make it in a man’s world. It’s our world too.

There is plenty of room for both men and women at the board room table, in the operating room, in the cockpit, and at the podium. Ladies, recognize your male and female advocates and amplify their voices. This is not just a female issue. This is humanity’s issue; a cultural issue; a society issue.

Can we not invite all who agree with us to be involved in changing the inequities? #SheForShe #HeForShe

Agnieszka Solberg is an interventional radiologist. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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