Saturday, October 13, 2012

Where the girls at?

I had the privilege of going to one of those important doctor conferences last weekend in sunny SoCal. It was honestly a fantastic experience in many more ways than I expected it to be.

Although, I still have some lingering unfinished business with the said conference, and it starts with answering the question, "Where the girls at?"  Seriously, I walked into the opening plenary and 5/5 leadership positions are white men?

Research conference winners are 7/8 male students?

What year is this again?

I'm not saying I know the exact reasons for this occurring; however, a recent study out from Yale did just find that gender bias is occurring even in academic science, possibly explaining the lack of women rewarded for their research efforts.  But there are other reasons of course.  There are the choices women make and the same old excuses always made for the unbalanced scales in leadership. But, as Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," the rules and culture need to be changed so women actually have a chance and are not forced to make the decisions most men simply don't.

I'm sure there are many more reasons, but the reasons don't matter as much as the lack of action taken to rectify the situation and the poor outcomes resulting from the shortcomings.  Less women means less female perspectives.  It means the balance in an organization is tipped.  It means nothing becomes easier for young professional women in the future because there are less women role models to look up to.  It means there are less women role models for even younger girls who aim to be doctors, or spokeswomen or whatever profession they aim.  It means the decisions world leaders are making lack female perspective, and I think history shows us what the world looks like when it is only run by men.  Grim is an understatement.

Granted, I was honored in more ways than one this weekend.  Our team's project may actually make a difference, which is the aim (I think) of all research.  Our goal is to stretch the status quo, and I think we may have planted a few seeds which is really all we can ask for, for now.

We dressed up, presented, put on the professional game face and delivered. We were poised, and we really did have it going on.

Regardless, there's still something lacking.  One can't help but feel a little bit like she intruded on a secret society of men... with their boy jokes and their male bonding. I won't mention egos because I know I have one too...but still... where the girls at?

There's something to be said about small talk when networking.  In Eastern countries, when you sit down to do work, you have tea, ask about the family and maybe a half an hour in, you start to discuss the project at hand.  In the US, small talk is said to be important.  I have to say, I think I'm damn well decent at small talk with women.  But with boys? Epic fail.  No, I don't play golf.   Football? Too many rules. No, I don't even watch sports...besides ice skating of course.

To be frank, I think I got stuck in that awkward adolescent stage, and I still stumble over my small talk with middle aged men.  This is inconvenient because they tend to be the majority at these kinds of conferences.  The result is that I'll talk only about the work because I have nothing else to relate to.  Unfortunately, women who are in the same position are accused of being abrasive, cold and dare I say, bitchy.  It's a catch 22 really.

Now, I'm sure I did fine. I put on the face and laughed at the jolly old jokes.  Luckily, I also had some good company too in order to bear the weight of my awkwardness, and my cynic hat really didn't come on until the way home.  Additionally, I am extremely grateful for the female trailblazers already in the field and will be sure to keep them close.

But, it is good to be home,  to take off the game face, indulge in the fall, and figuratively (I wish literally) play in the dirt and hang out with the worms as today became a baking/puzzle/reading day.

I know I will love the profession I have chosen once I'm actually in the field and talking to patients.  Until then, I feel like a large component of being a female in this profession requires having the game face on at all times, regardless of how draining it can become, and playing the game to get along in the boys' club.


  1. Vicki, this is so well written and unfortunately still true in this day and age, nice to see that some people are willing to step it up and make change for other women in the future:)

  2. Thanks Launna, and thank you for keeping up with my blog. Your comments are always so encouraging, even when I don't have the time to post.