It was three in the morning when I got the call to come to the hospital. A 56-year-old man fell from a ladder and sustained a spinal cord injury, paralyzing his arms and legs. Looking at his x-rays and MRI, I informed the patient and his wife that he had severe bruises to his spinal cord. To relieve the pressure and give her the best chance of recovery, I explained, I would need to operate on the back of my neck. I then used ten screws and two rods to fuse his spine. Although I couldn’t guarantee he would recover, I assured them that this was one of the most common operations I perform. “Okay,” his wife replied, “but who’s going to do the surgery? “
As a 5’4 “woman, I am regularly mistaken for a messenger or assistant. This is a regular experience for me, and, judging by the flow of stories in the” female doctor blogs “, I’m not alone The glass ceilings in the operating room can be sterilized with a medical grade disinfectant, but it takes more than a blow of a scalpel to pierce them.
I navigate the challenge of unconscious bias with the support of mentors who have facilitated my success through strategic networking, solid guidance and empathy, techniques that transcend industries. If you’re looking to introduce yourself as a mentor to the women in your network, here are three steps you can take to foster an inclusive work environment and build relationships that will pay off.
Mentoring Tip # 1: Find Ways to Amplify Women’s Voices
Women’s voices must come to the fore in order to change normative gender stereotypes. The data is clear: women occupy fewer positions of authority than men, from CEOs of the S&P 500 to organizational structures. The more women’s voices can be amplified within a broad framework, the faster we normalize the perceptions of women in power. The next time you’re coordinating a panel or can’t attend a panel you’ve been invited to participate in, ask yourself if there are women in your network with the expertise to contribute.
When a longtime mentor of mine recommended that I deliver the first Spinal Deformity Course, it opened up opportunities that immediately paid off. Among about twenty speakers, I was the only woman. Most of all, I was not just a woman, but a woman with the expertise of a qualified spine surgeon. The conference itself allowed me to learn from a lively discussion with other health leaders, to develop my network and to declare that a little woman of color is on the main stage.
Mentoring Tip # 2: Ask Your Mentee What Success Looks Like To Her
When I asked for advice on choosing a spine bursary, another spine surgeon said to me, “Well remember, as a woman, aren’t you going to have children? ? Although well-meaning, he encouraged me to lower my ambitions and hinted that the life of a spine surgeon was incompatible with motherhood. Or when I was negotiating a salary, a man on the other end said to me, “Your husband has a successful fintech business, doesn’t he? Do you need money?
Compare these stories with this one: Early in my career, one of my greatest mentors asked me what success looked like to me. I shared with him that I wanted to use my knowledge as a healthcare expert to improve patient care on a large scale. A month later, I found myself on a cross-country flight for coffee with a colleague of his, chairman of the board of one of the country’s largest health insurance companies. By helping me seize opportunities to explore non-linear career paths, mentors like this have prepared me to translate my skills into different contexts.
Women are socialized not to aim so high: Men are 4 times more likely to ask for a raise than women. Be the mentor who recognizes a unique skill set and sets the stage for unbridled ambition.
MENTORING TIP # 3: Empathize With Your Mentee
College orthopedic surgery is a notorious boys’ club, where choosing a family obligation over a professional obligation is often seen as a weakness, and I’m sure many readers outside of medicine are nodding their heads. While you can’t change a culture on your own, recognizing the challenges is the first step in letting women in.
When my toddler’s babysitter informed me that she would not be coming to work that day, my husband and I were faced with a familiar dilemma. Either I had to cancel the deal or my husband, who is rapidly growing his business, would have to cancel a meeting with a potential investor he had been pursuing for months. As is typical for us, we chose the latter. When I shared this with my boss, he gave me wise advice: “Deepee, in my relationship, it was always my wife who canceled her day. But she’s also a career-oriented professional, so why was it always her? No matter the reasons, if your husband is always the one to cancel his day, it can lead to resentment. He brought me into his life, and at the same time, recognized that man or woman, we are both parents, spouses and surgeons. It was a feeling that no spine surgery mentor, let alone my boss, had ever shared with me before.
Being a professional woman is sometimes isolated, and the best mentors I’ve had don’t pretend to be superhumans. As a mentor, empathizing with shared experiences goes a long way in fostering an inclusive work environment, while providing solutions to problems as they arise. Babcock, Linda and Sara Laschever. Women don’t ask. Princeton University Press, 2009.