Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in a group of women who were all talking about being a professional woman in the setting of gender biases and gender schemas. Actually I think it's the first time I've ever been in a group of women this size having those conversations. For the most part I kept silent and listened.
As I sat listening to the struggles all of these women faced, and I realized that my path has been different, and yet, in many ways the same. I didn't have female career mentors or sponsors. The strong, inspiring women around me were family and friends; I did not have female mentors or clear professional role models for my career path as an academic physician. I have experienced blatant sexism, been harassed and belittled.
One perfect example of this was on the first day of a college chemistry course. I walked in that morning and found a spot at a bench. I eventually realized the class was almost all men. I had blonde, long hair - this shouldn't matter, but it felt like the beacon to what happened next. The professor approached me and asked me if I knew what class this was. I assured him I did and it was not a mistake. He then proceeded to immediately offer me tutoring services because this class was "really hard." I remember my shock at this, I think I actually laughed at him as I politely declined. I KNEW I didn't fit his preconceived stereotype. And I didn't. I finished that class as his #1 student.
But, as I listened to the stories of other women, in this group and in more recent conversations, I have realized that I have been blessed in ways I had not recognized before.
I was raised to be strong, to chase my dreams without question and not to settle.
I have had strong men beside me throughout my education, my medical training and my personal life who embodied #heforshe before it was a tagline.
I have had phenomenal friends who have supported me. They celebrate the highs, curse at the lows and pick me up off the floor when I cannot do it myself.
Yes, I do think as a culture and society we have a long road before we see gender schemas and biases adjust toward equality. Yes, we have a long road before we see the same equality across all religions and races. Yes, I do think we need to keep talking about all of these and taking action.
However, this post isn't about that. This post is about listening.
That is the beauty of reading a blog, right? Its practically forced listening. If you have made it this far, you have heard my words. Let the words settle with you. Reflect on YOUR story - the good, the bad and the culmination of these experiences that have led you here.
It is too easy to talk and not really hear what you or anyone else has to say. To avoid the learning, the introspection, the opportunity afforded to evolve.
I walked away far more enlightened about my life, how gender schemas and biases have impacted me, how I strived to overcome those without realizing it at the time and how the men in my social circles have had greater positive impacts than I had ever imagined. I am better for it and will have more impact as a professional woman going forward both personally and as I share my story with other women.
All of this, from one decision to try to not talk but just LISTEN.
Who will you listen to today?