I admit that I usually try to give you food for thought then let you draw you own conclusions and applications.
Tonight, on the eve of International Women’s Day, I’m making an exception. I’m dispensing some invaluable career advice for my women readers, particularly those in surgery:
Get yourself a “Girl Gang.” If you are somewhere where one is already in place, find out how to become a contributing member. At all costs, though, find yourself a group of women who share your commitment to excellence.
This article examining mentor-mentee sponsorship and gender came to my attention over the weekend (HT: Susan Pitt). She astutely pointed out that this gives us an “action item” for women in surgery- to do a better job with sponsorship as more of us move into leadership roles.
This came on the heels of my friend Harriet Hopf mentioning during a breakout session last Friday that she appreciated being asked to join a “girl gang” that we already had in place at Utah with the expressed goal of promoting one another for leadership opportunities and awards. She came here from an institution with plenty of women in her department and in leadership roles, so this wasn’t something instinctive for them to do. For those of us in departments and places with a paucity of women leaders, it’s critical.
How does our Girl Gang work? It’s remarkably easy. We watch out for leadership positions or awards (both within and outside of our institution) that align with one other’s skills and accomplishments, and we nominate each another. Also, if there is a recognition that one of us really wants, we have an understanding that self-nomination to another group member is encouraged, and they’ll take care of the actual nomination.
Certainly our effort focuses on a group of women who are at a certain stage of their career, and those people definitely comprise the active members of our Girl Gang. However, once you start doing these things for your peers, you realize that it’s easy enough to extend your influence beyond that core group. I suspect I’m becoming a bit notorious with some of our female faculty in particular for my “nudge” emails (“You are incredibly qualified for this…you should apply…how can I help?”). My basis for doing this is two-fold, and both are factual. First, as women we tend not to apply for things until we’re overqualified. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us that yes, we really are worthy. Second, it helps take the stigma away of tooting your own horn– again, something that women are penalized far more heavily for than are men.
(Closing note: While our Girl Gang has focused heavily on promoting the careers of women, we are not exclusionary and we welcome allies. I solemnly promise that I’ve put men forward for awards, leadership roles, opportunities, etc…I just focus on it less because we’re nowhere near having a critical mass of prominent women in academic surgery. Yet.)