My friends, I am humbled this weekend.
A year ago I agreed to present on culture change to the inaugural WEL cohort, a group of 18 amazing women physician leaders. I had no idea at the time what an honor and privilege this would be. This would be the last in person meeting of their 18 month training on Wellness, Equity, and Leadership. Having just completed my own 10 month leadership training, I empathized acutely with the bittersweet bonding and pending farewell among these sisters.
For two days I received infinitely more than I offered, and I saw again how membership in a mutually respectful, supportive, and empowering tribe can transform any individual from star to superstar. Truly, these women were superstars before this tribe was formed; but whereas before we probably only needed dark sunglasses in their presence, now we need welder’s masks.
Gender, race, socioeconomic status, mental health status—these factors among others are all subject to unconscious bias and thus discrimination, in all arenas of society. These WEL women will have a hand in changing that for the better, of this I am certain. I’m so proud to know them all.
The night before my presentation, I messaged my friend who has helped me think more deeply about these issues in the past year. I wrote, “It reminds me of your idea of approaching inclusion first, which I now see as wide psychological safety. As you said, there can be a room full of white men and all may not feel included. And in my mind, that precludes true, open and honest collaboration and productivity. It prevents any forward movement toward diversity or equity. When we don’t feel safe we revert to scarcity and survival thinking. We look out only for ourselves. Nothing good happens here.”
What about the one Old White Guy (OWG) among women, how does he feel? Dr. Clif Knight, Senior Vice President of Education for the American Academy of Family Physicans and WEL steering committee member, owned this distinction this week. He reported his recent self-identification as ‘a HeForShe.’ My heart leapt for joy. Later I took him by the lapels and shook him (gently), practically yelling that I was so excited, and wished for him to recruit all of his OWG friends to the cause.
I thought again about my friend above, also an OWG. I know him to be kind, generous, respectful of women and a genuine ally. What about his idea of working on inclusion first? After a long, deep conversation with one of my new WEL friends, with whom I’m also thinking about equity issues for Asian-American physicians, a new insight dawned on me, and I wrote to her: “Practicing inclusion INCLUDES the OWG ‘oppressor’! 😱 If we talk only about him needing to include others, while we make him feel excluded himself, how can we ever expect to enroll him in our cause or even behave in the way we ask? We do how we feel. And when we feel threatened and marginalized, especially from a place of loss, we act accordingly…”
Another new WEL friend, Dr. Dawn Sears, has already taken this idea to heart and made an impact in her community, elevating women’s and men’s awareness of gender disparity in medicine, and helping them fight it together. Check out her powerful presentation to colleagues here, full of evidence as well as unsettling personal stories. In it she directly and kindly addresses the men in the audience, informing and inviting them to join the fight, for all our sakes. She names the contrarian men who have held her up on her professional journey, defying gender bias and paving their own HeForShe way for others. She includes men in order to enroll them in the movement. I encourage all to view the talk—find out how you, as colleague, patient, and all around good citizen, man or woman, can help improve the system for us all.
Once again I thought about my friend. I wrote to him again: “I wonder if I inadvertently made you feel excluded, or at least ‘other’d’ when I asked you to read Feminist Fight Club*. DUH, the intended audience for that book is women.” He was gracious and encouraging in his response, and I look forward to continuing our conversation for a long while.
Tonight I feel wildly optimistic. So many strong, visible, articulate, creative, powerful and loving people all over the place, all working to make the world better for all of us, WOW. We will make a difference, my friends. We are not only allies; we are accomplices. If we go together, we can do anything.
Onward, friends. We’ got lots to do.
*He made an earnest, good faith effort, and did not finish the book.