Highlights from the Women Networking Session: Managing Bias in the Workplace
The Women Networking Session was established in 2020 as a moderated forum open to AUA members and meeting participants. It is designed to build a community of women in academic anesthesiology, to share the professional and personal challenges faced on a career path, and to explore strategic solutions to those challenges. It was held on April 14th and was attended by 40 participants.
The focus of this year’s session was “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”. According to the AAMC, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men in anesthesiology have experienced a form of sexual harassment in the workplace. The most common form of sexual harassment is gender harassment, which is defined as “verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status about members of one gender.”
Jeanine P. Wiener-Kronish, MD
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
Odmara Barreto Chang, MD, PhD
University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Kathryn E. Glas, MD, MBA
University of Arizona, Tucson, Tucson, AZ
Jaleesa A Jackson, MD
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR
Gabriel E. Sarah, MD, MAEd
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
The session included presentations by Drs. Hastie, Glas, and Jackson, and was moderated by Drs. Barreto-Chang and Wiener-Kronish. Dr. Hastie provided an overview of incidence and impact of gender harassment in academic medicine and in anesthesiology. Dr. Glas reviewed the many facets of gender bias, its manifestation in the workplace, and its impact on women’s careers and wellbeing. Dr. Jackson shared a powerful personal testimony on the challenges faced by women at the confluence of race, gender, and ability. Her story also highlighted the healthcare inequities and the impact of bias, prejudice, and racism on health care outcomes.
The session was then focused on participant-submitted questions which were discussed by all those in attendance based on their experiences and expertise.
From this enriching conversation, three main themes emerged: how to start the conversation around gender harassment, managing bias, and dealing with impostor syndrome.
Starting the Conversation Around Gender Harassment
Women have experienced the resistance within their departments to acknowledge the presence of sexual harassment. Several strategies for raising awareness and for changing workplace culture were discussed.
- Approach these difficult conversations with an open mind and a willingness to hear opposing opinions. Be willing to engage respectfully and patiently with all members of a group to identify cause for resistance.
- Arguments are more effective when based on data and facts. They can help illustrate the incidence and the impact of harassment and bias.
- Finding allies among colleagues and acting as an ally when possible. Allies in positions of leadership should have the moral courage to take action and address the difficult situations
- Engage all available resources within the department and within the institution. Identifying, recognizing, and enlisting impartial sources of support is key.
- Acknowledging that leaving a toxic work environment may sometimes be the best next step.
Navigating a Biased System
In addition to sexual harassment, the group recognized the common prevalence of “isms” within our systems, including racism, ageism, and ableism. Individuals with intersecting characteristics and identities may experience more prejudice than others, whether related to race, gender, presence of disability, sexual orientation, or country of origin. Participants shared engaging in “code switching” in these situations, to conform to the expected stereotypes and behaviors. Code switching comes at a personal cognitive and emotional cost. Others noted the conflation between illness and impairment, especially in relation to mental health. The group agreed on the importance of sharing personal stories to normalize our humanity. Finally, the participants emphasized the importance of building systems that are welcoming for everyone, that are equitable to all their members, and that do not rely on granting of special favors.
Dealing with Impostor Syndrome
The attendees acknowledged the tendency of women to minimize their achievements, and to doubt their competencies. Strategies for helping others navigate this challenge includes advocating for mentees and junior faculty, showing up as true self as a leader in the workplace, normalizing the feelings of hesitancy, and anchoring in objective past performance. In addition, it’s worthwhile recognizing that impostor syndrome is not the result of an individual’s struggle. Instead, impostor syndrome is a result of damaging gender stereotypes and a manifestation of an inequitable system.