“It’s not your time”

I’m hopeful, dear readers, that we can have a bit more of a dialogue this week.  I need to learn something, and I particularly need the wisdom of the men in the audience.

One of the undeniable joys of spending last week on the road at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress is the time I got to spend with surgeon-friends from many places and at varied career stages. Yes, there was learning and thinking and organizational work, but at the end of the day the connection is (as ever) what means the most to me as I reflect. I came home so thrilled to know more about the work that my friends are doing, and feeling supported in my own.

As one would expect if I’m spending time with varied surgeon friends, it also means that I got to spend time with some phenomenal surgeons/ scholars/ leaders who happen to be women. As one would expect, plenty of stories get shared.  As a qualitative researcher, I’m always looking for themes in stories, and last week was no exception.

What I heard was quite a few amazing, talented, accomplished women with tales of leadership roles deferred or denied, with the standard rationale of, “It’s not your time” or “We need to give Brad* a chance.”

This is where I need the crowdsourcing help, because I only know the female experience of many of my colleagues and myself. I feel like in the last year I’ve heard more and more of this sort of deferral or denial. Is “It’s not your time” code for implicit or explicit bias that keeps women out of leadership roles they have legitimately earned? Or is this a reflection of generational shift, and is something that’s being used to keep men and women who might buck the status quo a bit out of roles that, again, they have legitimately earned?

If this is simply reflective of old institutions dying with a long exhale, we need to address it.  We need the best leaders in the most crucial roles, and we don’t need to wait for that.

If this is truly a “new” form of gender bias, it’s even more imperative that we address it. Nothing will change unless we do, and, again, we don’t need to wait.

Help me learn, readers- is this gender or generation bias at play?


*”Brad” is simply the standard guy, and is usually the standard white guy who doesn’t upset the apple cart. My apologies to any Brads out there because I do, in fact, know that some of you are amazing people and leaders who do think beyond tradition.

11 thoughts on ““It’s not your time”

  1. Thank you for asking this question. I talk more with women than men because we have organized, but I have the advantage of a surgeon husband & other male colleagues who share with me. He has never been told “be more like Brad” as I have or “I didn’t put Brad up for x opportunity at this career stage, so I can’t put you up now”. He certainly wasn’t told “I know you won’t work as hard after you have a baby”, so I don’t want to give you more responsibilities (as I have heard from many women surgeons). It is difficult because not every encounter is based on gender, but much of the behavior I see appears biased.

    1. That was my sense from these conversations as well- it is so hard to tell. Thus my quest for more information!

  2. As a cis white male I did hear this earlier in my career, when looking at a leadership role that opened in the department. I heard it again the 1st time I asked about going up for promotion. Ironically, I heard this from someone who had been promoted at an earlier age than what I was at the time. I do think there is a generational element here, although completely anecdotally I have heard this more often from my female colleagues than my male colleagues.

    1. Interesting. Thanks for contributing to the dialogue- I’m finding people’s experiences in this space fascinating!

  3. I really think this is some of both. The “not your time” bit is generational but much more frequently seen in reference to women. As a white male that has perhaps benefited (certainly not through my intent) from this, both are highly disturbing to me. Especially in health care today, we need thoughtful innovative leaders as well as a diverse field of leadership. The “old school” way of doing things is not getting us anywhere and truly needs to be left behind. Leadership diversity & income equality need to be embraced by all of us with all of our heart. Just a few thoughts from “Brad”

  4. I am a white man and I have, more than once, been told this exact statement as well when I have asked for support from my chair when going up for a leadership role. The first time I accepted the his opinion and did not even apply. The second time I applied anyway and got the position. Now I don’t even ask anymore, I just inform him that I’m applying. If he wants to support me: great! If he doesn’t: great!

    I do believe that these types of excuses are directed towards both sexes but that it is more common for them to be directed towards women. For example, I have a female colleague who was passed over for a leadership role she had expressed interest in and when asked why she was told “well, I didn’t want to burden you with the extra work since you have two young children”. Mind you, the man who got the position had two kids the same age as the woman who was not even considered for the job. There are other examples I could give. I find this all very offensive and do feel lucky, but at the same time guilty, that I don’t have to deal with this kind of sexist garbage. I will say that I have also seen a least one women use the “woman card” as an excuse when they were not qualified or the person who got the job was more qualified but I think that is less common than the opposite.

    Some of the best mentors in my life have been women. I feel strongly that the job should go to the most qualified person and the pay should be the same for the job, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, age, or race. I hope that one day soon we can achieve this goal. It is so exciting to go to the ACS and see so many strong woman surgeons in leadership roles. I love the #ilooklikeasurgeon movement and the #heforshe campaign. Another “Brad” chiming in.

    1. And your comment proves that you are anything but an average “Brad.” I appreciate your thoughtfulness on this.

  5. Great discussion.
    It is really difficult for me not to comment way too much.
    Would be a blast to discuss in person.

    I think there are two (or more) sides to everything, but I believe you have highlighted several significant factors.

    1) Generational bias – bucking the system plays a role. Many leaders (less effective) fear change and fear those below them. Brad is more likely to support the promoter. Truly effective leaders inspire their team to succeed and rejoice in the success of others.

    2) Gender bias – absolutely. Both conscious and unconscious. Personally, it is hard to be fully aware of my own biases, but I am pretty sure that I have the same respect for surgeons, leaders and people no matter their gender. It is very refreshing to see these gender biases change is our society and culture, especially with #ilooklikeasurgeon
    Let’s keep it going.

    3) Other bias – Diversity of viewpoint. I separate this from just generational viewpoint. There is a general sense that like-minded people associate well together. This has advantages and disadvantages. We can definitely seek out others that share our beliefs. However, diversity of viewpoints can be incredibly enlightening and lead to some really incredible things.

    Standard white guy – Jeff (not Brad)