“If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.” Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PledgeforParity. According to the World Economic Forum in its Global Gender Gap Report 2015, it will take approximately 117 years to achieve global gender parity. Why is this important? It has been shown that accelerating women’s advancement in the workplace and therefore creating gender-balanced teams produces better outcomes and creates prosperity. More equality means a higher GDP and more productivity. Also, more gender-balanced leadership results in better all-around performance.
So what does this mean for surgery? There have been some improvements. The number of female consultant surgeons in the UK has increased from just 3% in 1991 to 11% in 2014. Obviously we still have some way to go considering approximately 60% of graduating medical students are female. There is still a large gap between the number of women who go into surgical training & those that become consultants. One of the most important changes that we can make to improve this situation is to create an inclusive, flexible culture for everyone. It is increasingly recognised that men in surgical training want work/life balance (whatever that means for the individual) too. Those in senior positions have the opportunity to set the tone for their unit or organisation to one that is supportive, inclusive and that challenges conscious and unconscious bias. To help women and girls achieve their ambitions, visible role models are imperative . In the words of Marian Wright Edelman, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. We need to define opportunities for advancement and encourage women to put themselves forward.
My pledge for #IWD2016 is to help women and girls achieve their ambitions. For me, this means being a visible and positive role model for young women, reminding them that girls can do anything. The inspirational and successful #ILookLikeASurgeon and #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaigns on Twitter have gone a long way to showing girls that any career they want is within their reach.
If we are to achieve gender parity in the workplace we need to work together (men & women) to reinvent gender roles, challenge the norms and provide equal opportunities for all. Only then, within a supportive working environment, will all talent be allowed to flourish. So, make a decision today to be part of that change.