Role of Men as Mentors for Women in Medicine
By: Favour Akinjiyan
I looked down at my phone to confirm that I was not lost. Yes, I was at the right address - 5555 Grand Avenue. I became quite uneasy, obviously intimidated by the beauty and humongous size of the building. Feeling frazzled and shy, I took a deep breath and walked in. Two years later, I walked out of that same building with a MD/PhD program offer, a deeper understanding of the process of scientific inquiry and a better sense of self. The growth I experienced during that time, was very much dependent on my mentor. The differences in our backgrounds are striking – me, a young black woman and him, an older white man – yet, our very obvious differences never got in the way of our professional relationship.
Since the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements which drew attention to sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, many have come forward to challenge the status quo. Interestingly, one may begin to wonder how this movement affects mentorship in the workplace especially among gender discordant pairs. #HeforShe encapsulates a push for men to stand in support of gender equity and to contribute to the advancement and uplift of women in the workplace as well as in training programs.
In this regard therefore, men can stand up for women in medicine as role models and advocates, to create a more gender-balanced environment in healthcare, especially since majority of the leadership positions in medicine are currently held by men. As allies, men can partner with women in the following ways to aid career development:
1. Serve as reliable mentors and sponsors for women in medicine by providing advice/guidance on issues ranging from maintaining successful career relationships, grant applications, salary negotiation to work-life balance and leadership skills.
2. Nominate women for opportunities, that have hitherto been men-centric: When opportunities become available, the mentor may nominate his mentee whom he knows is a good fit or shows potential to grow in that specific area. Written nominations/references or in-person conversations by a man for a position that was all about “the men”, may make a difference. Examples of such opportunities may include conference presentations or leadership positions.
3. Acting as an advocate, either by speaking up against injustices observed, providing resources or referral to appropriate organizations or communicating support to a mentee going through a tough situation makes a difference.
In conclusion, if we must change the current gender imbalance in medicine, then men in medicine who currently hold the bulk of leadership positions, should step up as mentors to women in medicine. The healthcare industry is best served when a diversity of voices is brought to the decision-making table, and this involves adequate representation of women in medicine in healthcare leadership. 500 Women in Medicine, a satellite organization of 500 Women Scientists, is looking to partner with leaders in healthcare who will be committed to mentoring the next set of women leaders in medicine. If you are interested or would like to learn more about this, please get in touch with us here: email@example.com.
Favour Akinjiyan is a second year MD/PhD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, she moved to the United States for college. She graduated from New York Institute of Technology with a BS in Life Sciences. She is interested in cancer biology and health awareness initiatives for minority populations.