IWD: Female leadership the next step for gender equality

Anna Samecki

10/03/2022 4:43:21 PM

RACGP WA Chair, Dr Ramya Raman, shares her top tips and advice for leadership success.

Dr Ramya Raman
Dr Ramya Raman is a passionate advocate for women in medicine and hopes to see more take up leadership roles. (Image: Supplied)

Despite gender parity being achieved across Australian medical schools, the same cannot be said of women in medical leadership roles.
Women in medicine continue to face significant barriers when it comes to assuming prominent positions.
This imbalance is often evident from early on, with fewer women leading medical student associations, all the way to the very top, including senior positions in hospitals and professional colleges.
One woman hoping to break the bias is Dr Ramya Raman, RACGP WA Chair and WA GP of the Year 2020.
From humble beginnings in rural NSW, Dr Raman relocated to WA to study medicine at the University of Notre Dame Fremantle.
She then completed her general practice training and began working as a GP with a special interest in women and children’s health, while also teaching medical students at the very university she graduated from.
Speaking to newsGP, Dr Raman says gender disparity in medical leadership positions was one of the driving factors that motivated her to nominate for the position of WA Chair.
‘We’ve attained gender parity in medical schools, but there is still an underrepresentation of women in senior leadership positions in Australia and worldwide,’ she said.
‘That’s something I have always been, and continue to be, passionate about.’
Dr Ramya’s first piece of advice for aspiring female leaders is to be open to leadership opportunities from the very beginning.
‘I started off small as the fourth-year representative for my cohort in my final year of medical school,’ she said.
‘After that, I got into general practice training and became the registrar liaison officer through the local regional training provider.
‘And the reasoning for that was very simple – it was primarily to have a voice and be able to actually bring forth some of those issues from a grassroots level to an arena where they should, and could, be heard.’
Her passion for leadership did not go unnoticed, and in 2018, she was co-opted as an RACGP WA council member.
This move set the wheels in motion for her pathway to Chair.
‘[Being elected to council] allowed me to do a lot of good work with the local government here in advocating for GPs and GPs in training, as well as vulnerable patient populations,’ she said.
While there is still a substantial gender disparity when it comes to prominent leadership positions, Dr Raman believes ‘we are getting better’ at encouraging and recognising women in important roles, but says there is a need for more women in senior leadership positions to enable that process even further.
Which is why she continues to put her hand up, ‘not just for my colleagues, but also for the profession’.
Of course, putting yourself out there does not come without risk and Dr Raman says she has faced unconscious gender bias when nominating for these roles.
‘It still contributes to the glass ceiling effect and there are a lot of unspoken barriers to career progression [for women], which I’ve encountered along the way,’ she said.
‘This bias prevails even today, despite women having increased qualifications, employability, and work performance.
‘But rather than focusing on what has happened or what is happening, I prefer to focus on how it is being tackled and what can be done.’
With that in mind, her second piece of advice is to have professional mentors as a way to foster reflective practice and build resilience.
‘Mentoring can be a tool to overcome some of this bias,’ she said.
‘Engaging with mentors not only helps personal development, it can improve our communication and interpersonal skills, it helps us better engage with our patients, and most importantly, it also enables us to reflect using reflective practice and build a sense of resilience.
‘That’s not something that comes easily, but having the right people to help guide that process is invaluable’.
Importantly, Dr Raman says mentoring should not only come from women, but from men as well.
‘I have mentors who are both men and women, so it’s not just about focusing on one gender,’ she said.
‘Having the ability to use them both as a sounding board, and to use their experience to try to engage, to see what you can leverage and pivot off, is the biggest tool and the best tool that anyone can use to overcome some of the barriers that exist.’
Her final piece of advice is to challenge negative thinking.
‘Unconscious gender bias in itself plays a big role in all our attitudes and behaviours, so challenging those thought processes and having self-awareness, is incredibly important,’ Dr Raman said.
‘One quote I often mention is “the behaviour we walked past is the behaviour we accept”, so we need to challenge those behaviours, negative attitudes and thoughts, as that is what will ultimately foster growth and equality.’
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