Updated: Feb 25, 2021
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I am an avid reader. I love to read. It is my hobby. As a child, my favorite thing was to find somewhere quiet and crack open a new book. Two years ago, it seems every article or book I read on grit, success, or leadership referenced the book Mindset, by Carol Dweck. After an endorsement by a good friend, I decided to read it.
This book is in the top five books that have changed the way I operate as Dr. Shillcutt.
Now let’s be clear: it wasn’t entertaining. I didn’t laugh until I cried or anything, but if there is one book that has made me change the way I parent, how I view my ability to be a peace with my decisions, bounce up from failure, and understand my skill and how I interact with others, it is this book.
And to my surprise, it also changed the way I view my ability to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling.
The author, Dr. Carol Dweck, is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She is the leading world expert on the psychology of success. Dr. Dweck spent her career researching differences in children and adults who are similar in intelligence yet have opposite responses to difficulties, tests, and setbacks. In her studies of the intelligence of success, Dr. Dweck teaches there are two groups of people: those who believe their abilities are innate (a fixed mindset), and those who believe they can acquire their intelligence through effort and perseverance (growth mindset).
She found that those who rise to the challenge and bounce back from failures (growth mindset), and those who respond to failure by withdrawing, shutting down, and become low performers (fixed) differ in their mindset and even their neuronal makeup. While I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but think of the culture of medicine and its application. Medicine is an interesting combination of science and art. I experience fixed mindsets everywhere; regimented practices of “we’ve always done it this way, so this is the way it shall continue.” Sometimes a fixed mindset is good; there is natural order in medicine, and rightfully so. There is structure, protocols, regimens and best practices to heal.
But I can tell you, as a woman physician, if I did not adopt a growth mindset early in my career, I would not be as resilient as I am today. I believe as Dr. Dweck’s research shows, I would not have earned success nor the respect of my colleagues. I cannot stress how importance this mindset is as a woman in medicine, where statistically speaking, the odds of climbing the ladder of academia on pace with our male colleagues are simply not in our favor.
A few years ago I attended a talk on Women in Science at a national conference. I was excited to sit in the audience; these were my people. As the only funded clinical researcher in my department during that time, it was easy to feel isolated and I often found myself painstakingly figuring things out by trial and error. Add in the fact I am was often the only woman clinical researcher in my department, and there were many times I wanted to quit. I had to build infrastructure that didn’t exist and create programs from the ground up. It was an incredibly lonely job. But the positive take? I learned what it took to be a pioneer and it made me gritty.
What I heard at that conference was staggering. When I started checking the sources the speaker referenced, I was even more devastated. When compared to male colleagues, women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) take more years to reach academic rank and promotion, score lower on grant reviews, take longer to get manuscripts published, and face harsher critique when submitting their work to journals. The speaker showed how whether it is employers, grant reviewers, or journal editors, if a CV, grant or manuscript is submitted with a female name on it, the score will be lower than if the name is blinded and judged objectively as gender neutral.
It is no longer a pipeline issue.
She revealed how while nearly 50% medical students are women, data from the AAMC Group on Women in Medicine and Science (2013-2014) shows that less than 20% of women will make full professor, less than 15% are department chairs, and 12-16% are medical school deans.1 Thinking of switching to the hospital side and the C-suite and boardroom? My odds of success would not be much better; women make up only <15% of corporate boards in the United States according to the McKinsey Study.(2) Interestingly, I would have a better chance of making a corporate board if I moved to Africa.
Yes. This is true.
If you read the recent work of Dr. Julie Silver, even our medical societies, some of which hold membership of 35% women, gave zero recognition awards to women in the history of the organization.(3) Not even one award.
While we all tend to point out individual women in leadership here and there and say “Hey look! We are changing!” the fact is this: it is 2019. And at the current rate of equalizing gender disparities in the workplace, it will take 100 years to reach equilibrium. (2)
It will not happen in my lifetime.
If I were to just look at the numbers, my future doesn’t look so hot. Unless I beat the odds, I don’t have too much farther to go until I am getting into single digit chances of excelling past my potential in academia.
I have always depended on my work ethic to achieve. While I know I have to work hard, learn more and in many ways shine like a hope diamond to be recognized compared to my male counterparts, it can be discouraging to do so.
It is easy to embrace a fixed mindset as a woman. When you read the statistics and follow the science, and you know your likelihood to excel, your income, and your stature would be significantly higher if you were simply born a male, a fixed mindset is easy to embrace. It can also be easy to adopt a fixed mindset if you are a man. As a man, it is difficult to change the status quo when most of the time work place disparities are not always apparent, obvious or conscious decisions.
But please resist.
If a woman in STEM were to adopt a fixed mindset, why would she stay in the field? Why would she labor for years only to reach a level that is much lower than her potential, her work ethic, and her intelligence? Where is the hope in that?
I encourage you, whether you are a man or woman, to read Dweck’s book. Her science is solid and interesting and more importantly, it brings HOPE. If I didn’t believe that my success was directly related to my effort, and that I could change the outcome of the statistics that I could kick the crap out of the glass ceiling, why would I stay in medicine? What would be the purpose?
A growth mindset has helped me stay positive when the odds are against me. It’s hard to ignore the statistics. It’s easy to agree we need more inclusion to succeed in medicine but what will you DO about it?
You chose to whom you give opportunities. You chose who you help foster a growth mindset. You chose who you mentor, encourage and who you sponsor.
Why should we care? Because inclusion of women and minorities in leadership lends itself to better business practices, improved outcomes, and healthier organizations. If you don’t believe me, you are not up to speed with the literature.2 Studies show the more diverse your organization’s leaders are, the better you serve your customers.
We owe it to our patients.
I once had a colleague say to me, “Sasha, why do you do all that you do? Do you really think you will be a Dean or CEO someday?”
I couldn’t help but wonder how my male colleagues would have answered that question.
Here’s the thing: you can change your mindset. You can achieve success through a growth mindset. How? Always be a learner. Take risks. Don’t discount yourself. Keep putting your name in the ring, even if you don’t get chosen. Believe in others. Give them a chance. Foster growth.
If you don’t believe in you, why should anyone else?
As a person who actively works to adopt a growth mindset, I am learning to fail without discouragement or setbacks. I am praising the process, the effort, and the improvement. I am more engaged and have more perseverance. I am #braveenough to point out gender disparities when they are apparent, and suggest a change in how we approach biases.
Why? Because I believe we can change. And I have hope.
Hope that someday I, like other women who chose a career in STEM, will change the stats. Shatter the glass.
1. AAMC 2013-2014 State of Women in Academic Medicine Report: The Pipeline and Pathways to Leadership. 2014, www.aamc.org
2. Catalyst. Quick Take: Women on Corporate Boards Globally. New York: Catalyst, January 4, 2017
3. Silver J et al. Female physicians are underrepresented in recognition awards from the American academic of physical medicine and rehabilitation. PM R, Published online: March 21 2017; 1-9