Reflections on Leadership Learning
2016 Graduates: Cilgy Abraham | Gabriella Shypula | Radhika Srivastava
Presented by Radhika Srivastava , IWL Leadership Scholar Graduate, 2016
Focusing on your policy area of interest, please consider how your understanding of the area has shifted or deepened through your work in the program. What do you believe young women leaders committed to social change can do to make a difference in this policy area? As you go forth from the Institute, what are you taking forward with you?
When I was accepted into the Leadership Scholars Program, I thought I already knew what leadership looked like. I had always been headstrong and outspoken, which aligned with my narrow idea of what leadership means. I never felt like there was something I couldn’t do because of my identity as a woman of color. The Leadership Scholars program widened and deepened my understanding of leadership, feminism, and intersectionality. I began to be more critical of my life, community, and the world around me.
The program also overlapped with my first year at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. At first, I wasn’t more than vaguely aware of any disparities in medical field – women make up approximately 50% of medical students, so what disparities could there be? This opinion, by the way, is shared by many – medical students, lay people and established physicians. Through my social action project, I learned about the underrepresentation of women and women of color in leadership positions such as department chair and medical school dean, as well as in competitive, prestigious, and higher paying specialties such as neurosurgery and cardiology. I learned about the obstacles that women and women of color have to contend with – discrimination, harassment, and isolation. This learning was at first theoretical, and then somewhat experiential, as I worked through my first year of medical school.
I just want to share one of those experiences with everyone – I had spent the morning shadowing an OB/GYN in the operating room. Usually, first and second year students don’t spend much time in the hospital, as the first two years are more classroom and exam based. I had reached out to the surgeon because I was interested in OB/GYN. An orthopedic surgery resident offered to walk me out as I was unfamiliar with the labyrinthine hospital set up. After realizing I was a first year student, he asked but more so demanded why I was there. I was so taken aback by this, but blurted out that I was there because I could be. Only after I asserted myself and established why I get to take up space did the resident take me more seriously. I think this experience is going to stay with me for a long time.
Women and women of color entering the health professions will have similar negative experiences. We have to be strong and work harder than our counterparts to get the same respect and recognition. The most important and meaningful thing we can do is support each other. I happened to develop my social action project by chance, before I had even gotten to medical school and realized what an immense need there was for it. However, we need to take the bottom-up approach we learned about in Professor Bunch’s class; it is essential to examine the culture at your school or future program and identify aspects that can be improved. As cliché as it may be, you have to be suborn about your goals but flexible in your methods. All I can say is thank you to all those who make the Leadership Scholars Program possible: fellow scholars, instructors, staff, and all those who donate to the IWL. This has been an incredibly formative experience for me, and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to learn and grow in this program.
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