I’ve been a doctor for over 22years and plastic surgeon for over 14 of those, but I’m still fighting gender bias even at work.
At a webinar of women in leadership, one of the speakers said (paraphrased) ‘As a woman, you need to make space at the table for yourself, if you’re told there’s no seat, learn to bring a folding chair or make your own table.
A few hours ago, I was at a work related social event and the event coordinator whom I’m several years ahead of in qualification introduced everyone by name, cadre and qualification but introduced me as the ‘amiable wife of Dr XYZ’. I was there with my husband, a fellow surgeon and he’d introduced him by full names, cadre and his speciality. Before I started exploring mindfulness and the whole business of ‘replying from the place of who you are and not what happened’, I would have firmly but politely interrupted him, but I let him finish the rounds of introduction and in the most ‘amiable’ voice I could muster, said “Dr. Kaltungo isn’t just Dr. XYZ’s wife, she has a name, cadre, and speciality”. He laughed, cracked some joke about it and went ahead to introduce me as he’d done with the male surgeons.
To his credit, when he was making the closing speech, he made sure to properly address me.
Surgery is still a male dominated field in my part of the world where girl child education statistics is especially worrying. What with several girls abducted from different schools still in captivity several years after.
If it counts for anything, I’ve been the only ‘non-male surgeon’ (not using female surgeon for the purpose of this write up) in my hospital with close to 80 specialists at the last count.
At the specialist final examination, I was the only woman of the 9 candidates and 1 of the only 2 who passed. Let’s not even talk about the scores in this discussion.
When I was appointed as a surgeon, I was placed below and paid less than even the male colleagues appointed after me. It was a battle to get properly placed as I endured sickening comments from the CEO when I even suggested I be appropriately placed. When my placement was eventually corrected, the CEO told point blank not to expect any payment for the ‘arrears’ due me, and it never came.
With these I think I’ve earned my place at this table. I’m not asking for special recognition nor a bigger seat at the table, just my own seat.
Whilst I served in the C-suite of hospital administration with a staff strength of close to 2,000, I constantly fought for my seat at the table. It was enlightening but discomforting to learn about the term manterrupting and other maladies women in the c-suite suffer are real and well documented.
I applied to move up in the C-suite and was repeatedly told my chances are limited because I’m a woman and from a minority tribe, but I’ll continue to fight for my seat at the table.
I learnt from an all women leadership webinar that in the c-suite you must continue to fight for your place at the table, bring a folding chair if you think there’ll be no seat or even make another table.
The story is the same in practically all settings as I took the discussion to our Pan African Women Association (PAWAS) group and the feedback is ‘we are all still fighting for our well earned seats at the table’.
As a student of mindfulness, I’ll keep finding the most mindful way of responding from the place of who I am, but this is a fight for the my daughter and other girls so they don’t have to be introduced as Mr. XYZ’s wife, don’t have to say I have a name, a cadre and speciality.
The day of the Kamala Haris/Pence debate, my WhatsApp status read “Here’s to hoping the little girls of today don’t have to say “Mr. Vice President I’m speaking’. Kamala saying ‘Mr. VIce President I’m speaking’ for me meant she was fighting for her place at the table. I haven’t read anything to that effect, but even as one of the most powerful women in the world, she’s still fighting for her place at the table mentally or psychologically.
Have you had to fight for your place at the table ? How have you been doing so? Please hit comment below and let me know.