Some of you may be aware that I’m about three years into a two year project** examining barriers to careers in academic surgery; in its current form, the project focuses on women in academic surgery. In what isn’t likely to be a spoiler alert, while some gender-specific factors are identified, the preponderance of what we’re seeing is both systemic and cultural, therefore impacting the pipeline in general, not just for women.
The major gap in the information that we have to date involves hearing the stories of those who choose to leave academic surgery. I’m aware of this limitation and have plans to address it, which means that this Sunday Review from the New York Times struck a special chord with me. The glass ceiling is real in business and in academia, and while the need to fix it is widely acknowledged, we still don’t entirely understand its etiology. What we do know is that theoretically it should be less of a pipeline problem than it was 20 years ago. In spite of more women entering surgical training, a recent study shows that gender parity in academic surgery will not happen in my lifetime.
Advice on how to get ahead, while well-meaning, doesn’t serve to fix the deeply embedded cultural issues. Preaching to already high-achieving women about how to fix themselves is likely too little, too late, and engages to a degree in the “victim blaming” I’ve been known to rail against when discussing burnout.
Interestingly, there’s a tie between the loneliness described by the high-achieving women in the Sunday Review and burnout. While the basis for loneliness is complex and is only in part attributable to a sense of “other-ness” in those who aren’t historically represented in leadership roles, it quickly becomes obvious that it plays a substantial role in burnout…burnout can result in exit…exit results in loss of (diverse) talent…you can see the downstream effects here.
I’m offering myself some thought challenges that I want to extend to each of you (yes, you, as you say, “I’m not a leader!”).
- What if today you tried today to bring more compassion to your team through a kind word or supportive act? Hint: “Thank you” counts as a kind word. If you can be specific in that thanks, it’s doubly valuable.
- What if today you worked to get someone connected into a network of some sort? Confession: being a “connector” is one of my FAVORITE things to do!
- What if today you helped someone celebrate a “win,” no matter how small that win feels- or if you celebrated your own? If you’re on Twitter, please share your own with #WednesdayWins. We need for this to become a “thing” to remind ourselves of what’s going well.
**Not actually joking about the time line. Anyone who has experienced the joy and misery of qualitative research and grounded theory understands exactly what’s going on here.