Dr. Gloria Wu Podcast: Cracks in the Glass Ceiling

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Gloria Wu, MD:

This is Dr. Gloria Wu. I’m doing a series of podcasts on leadership and women in medicine. Why do we care? 50% of all med school classes are now women and what’s going to happen to these young women? And we as women physicians in our prime are rising in leadership positions ourselves. And how can we go further, not hit that glass ceiling or make another hole in the glass ceiling? So something to think about when you think about women and leadership, you think about Hillary Clinton. She ran for president twice.

2016, she was barraged about whether she wore a white pants pantsuit, whether she wore pants, what she wore, whereas her male colleagues were not evaluated under dress code. And she was held to a different standard. So these are the things that we have to think about when we are seeing ourselves on the podium. What happens when we think that you’re going to have a tough meeting and you’re scared and you’re nervous? Something that we can do is put your hands on your hips, stand tall, expand your spine. Think big. Breathe in one, two, and out, three, four, five, six.

It’s amazing what this will do the one minute you have before you go in front of a big audience. So think about that. And also, many of us as women, as we were raised in a more traditional society perhaps, where gender norms and gender portrayals were all around us that did not expect us to become a woman surgeon, a woman ophthalmologist like I am, or a woman who’s on the ER taking care of people who are dying or saving people’s lives. Now, sometimes there’s something called the imposter syndrome, where we have this inner critic who says, oh, you’re not good enough.

You didn’t do it right. And that comes from the fact that we were all A students and we’re really good at it and we have partly obsessive compulsive personalities that we want everything right, we’re perfectionists. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have become surgeons or people who are entrusted with the lives of others, people dying in front of us, gunshot wounds, atrial fibrillation, sudden cardiac death. So we have this inner critic that yells at us, and it’s gives us a sense of fear. We can’t do it. It’s not good enough. We’re not good enough.

Versus the inner guidance that we could have a nice, gentle voice that says, you did it. We celebrate the small victories and focus on gratitude that we’re alive, the patient’s alive. Maybe the roof is caving in in this flood, but we save this one person’s life. So we have to be aware of this inner critic that could be relentless. So instead, take a breath, breathe one, two, out, three, four, five, six. As you’re listening at home, think about that. Breathe with me, one, two, breathing in, then out, three, four, five, six. That gives you a grip.

It changes your neural circuitry and you can think again and not have this imposter syndrome riding on your back. Now, one of the things that is interesting in our American politics, Geraldine Ferraro ran as the first woman vice presidential candidate, and she received a lot of flak as well, as well as Hillary Clinton. And when Hillary Clinton gave her speech saying that she had lost and Donald Trump had won, she said that she still hit the glass ceiling, but she made a million cracks in that glass ceiling.

So as we head into the 21st century, as all of these young women, 50% are in the med school class and will be graduating, we can hope that more cracks will be made in that glass ceiling. And we could think about all these things, these tricks of breathing in and out, hands on our hips, standing tall, expanding your spine, breathing in and out because we’ll need that to change our inner critic or to feel when we’re not good enough that yes, we can. We can do it. And I’d like to end with what Rosabeth Kanter says, professor at Harvard Business School, six rules to break all this and to always be there.

Number one, show up, that you care. It shows that you are there. Number two, speak up. Speak your mind. Tell them the data, give them your worldview. Number three, look up to the bigger mission statement to the big picture that we’re here to save lives. Ever since we saved that first gunshot wound, ever since we put in that first chest tube to save the person with the gunshot wound, we are here to save patient lives. We’re here to deliver better healthcare, and we can add our voice to that whole journey of making that patient’s journey better.

Four, team up with people who believe in our mission statement, who believe in our why, who believe in us, and in turn, we can inspire them. Number five, never give up. Persevere. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison and then he became elected president of South Africa. So we don’t have to suffer 27 years in prison, but don’t give up. The middle is the hardest. The middle journey is the hardest, so keep pressing forward. Number six, lift others up. When you succeed, mentor another person.

Share the success, share the joy, be a mentor, and also find a role model for yourself. If you like this, tune in again. Thank you.