This is the first of two blog posts from Ashley Voss-Liebig and Natalie May on a paper we recently published in the EMJ1. These two posts tell the story behind that paper, why we think it’s important and why we believe the best way to change the world is to do something that shares a message and explains the rationale. We hope these help you understand why we at St.Emlyn’s believe that there is work to do to examine gender in the worlds of emergency medicine, critical care and prehospital care.
Over to you, Ashley.
In December of last year, a Twitter conversation sparked fervent debate about the low number of female speakers at Emergency Medicine conferences. Scott Weingart (EmCrit.org), Simon Carley (Stemlynsblog.org), Dara Kass & Jenny Esmay (FemInEM.org) hosted a Google Hangout event to discuss why women are not represented in emergency medicine conferences around the globe. This was a direct result of the line up for the annual ResuscitateNYC16 event that is a free conference for EM residents. If you want to recap that converation then click on the YouTube link below.
Immediately, I was intrigued. If I am honest, I was annoyed. I thought this was an attack on my friend (Scott) who, I am quite certain, doesn’t have a biased bone in his body. Additionally, I am a woman who has always pushed her way to the front. Women aren’t allowed in combat? We’ll see. Woman are not great rescue specialists? We’ll see. I’m here to prove you wrong, by working hard, committing the time and by doing the work.
I want women to work. I want them to be more and better and prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt that they deserve to be there, wherever “there” may be. I penned the article “What are you waiting for?” for FemInEM2. Those points, made almost a year ago remain valid; work ethic is paramount, volunteering and respecting your value is critical, avoiding excuses because of family and gender role is essential.
Imagine my surprise when I learned last week that I was all wrong. Women are doing the work. Women are taking the stage. Not only are they taking the stage, they are doing so in numbers, higher than their male counterparts. An observational study published last week in EMJ, Carley et al1, found that the proportion of female speakers was actually slightly higher than the proportion of female EM specialists. My joy in the fact that women are actually speaking in larger numbers than I anticipated, is only overshadowed by the fact that, though women have taken the stage, they tend to talk for less duration. Is this because they think they have less to offer? Do they lack confidence in their expertise? Or maybe we could conclude that women are more precise, effective communicators. Either way, the evidence is clear on one thing: I was focused on the wrong problem!
We are now required to change the scope of concern, and further, our scope of action. As pointed out by Dara Kass and Esther Choo in their EMJ Editorial3 , perhaps we should be looking at why women do not pursue EM as a specialty.
Why is it that women; brilliant, talented, powerful, women leave this specialty to the wayside? And because we, as a community, appreciate and respect the perspective that women bring to field, why are we not pushing harder to attract and include them?
“Equity”, as pointed out by Dr. Nikki Stamp, “is not the same a equality.”
We could use this research as evidence for equity, and be satisfied. Conference organizers around the world could choose to righteously pat themselves on the back. Private debates could be won with “I told you so”.
We could act the like the professionals we profess to be and recognize our responsibility to mentor. We could empower and encourage, rather than compete. We could set standards and innovate, taking notes from conferences like Social Media and Critical Care (SMACC), where 40% of the speakers are women. We could do the work; the hard work of inclusion, the hard work of assessing our own personal bias, the hard work of eliminating barriers.
Attracting women to EM will require a multifocal approach, which must include women in prominent positions, be that in leadership, academia, or in the limelight. Little girls want dolls that look like them. Women want career mentors that represent them.
Dr. Natalie May put it best “we should applaud the progress in our specialty but keep on pushing forward until we are surprised we ever had to have this conversation”.
It seems that we, in emergency medicine, still have a great deal of work to do.
If you are inspired to consider more female speakers at your conference, try the FemInEM Speakers Bureau.
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