The ASH Women in Hematology Working Group invites you to attend a thought-provoking, interactive lecture and reception that looks to recognize the value and impact of women in our field. Julie K. Silver, MD, of Harvard Medical School, will be speaking on Accelerating Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion With a Focus on Women in Hematology. ASH News Daily spoke with Dr. Silver and Selina Luger, MD, of the ASH Working Group for Women in Hematology, about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the field, mentoring, and a sneak peek at what to expect from the event.
Dr. Luger provided some background regarding the change in tone of this year’s reception. She explained that last year, a group of women got together after the meeting and wrote a letter to ASH explaining their concerns with trends they noticed regarding women in hematology that they found to be more obvious at the annual meeting given the large number of female attendees. They also hoped ASH could help improve equity of women in the field, which led to the creation of a working group of women in hematology. In the Spring of 2019, the group, composed of about a dozen women from various areas in the field, came together united by an interest in understanding the role of women in hematology and how they could help promote women in the field. They quickly took on several projects. First, they tried to understand the composition of ASH membership, recognizing that there are insufficient records of what percentage of ASH members are women, and what the role of each member is within their institutions (especially how women’s roles compare to those of men in the field). They also tried to understand the needs of women in terms of mentorship and sponsorship, the gender composition of ASH, and whether committee structures and awards presented, among other things, are positively proportional to the number of women in the hematology community. Another project was to create an event that would help make the annual meeting much more meaningful for women in hematology, as well as find a speaker who could address topics of interest to them. To address the latter, women in hematology will now have a table at ASH-a- Palooza, and the group nominated Dr. Silver to speak at this year’s reception.
When we spoke to her, Dr. Silver stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion in the field, stating that both should exist proportionally to each other. “If there are a lot of women in the field, but they’re not equitably included at every level, then there is a disconnect between the diversity and inclusion metrics,” she said. This disconnect, she believes, tends to come from barriers that exist at an organizational level. She hopes this lecture and reception will provide every participant with an “aha!” moment that will help them recognize that some of their firmly held beliefs may, in fact, be false. “Everyone has some experience with diversity and inclusion, and many people have fairly fixed ideas about what gender equity involves,” she added. These insights will help pave the way for the acceleration of gender equity efforts.
When she became associate chair of her department, Dr. Silver noticed that more than 60 percent of the faculty came from one or more under-represented groups, and that the mentoring style used and the advice provided to this faculty, were not aligned with that data. “So, I had a choice: I could keep telling them things that I did not believe were true or I could change things quickly so that they were true. I chose the latter,” Dr. Silver stated. The chair of her department fully supported these efforts, and they have been actively working together on gender equity research and advocacy since then. Dr. Silver realized that no matter what was done internally in their department, they needed medical societies to focus on equity and inclusion, or the very diverse faculty would not be successful. “Essentially, we need our societies to be allies,” she concluded. In its efforts to do this, ASH, through the working group, made some changes to the existing reception. Dr. Luger called the reception in past years “a reception for women in hematology by women in hematology,” and explained that this year would be different in that the speaker would discuss equity in hematology with a focus on gender, opening up the reception to both men and women. “We feel that only by including everybody, will we be able to better make the changes that need to be made,” stressed Dr. Luger.
Dr. Silver believes that everyone who is seeking promotion to a leadership position should have formal training regardless of gender. Additionally, this training should be ongoing so that leaders are constantly learning new skills, including executive communication, negotiation, and strategic planning, as well as core competencies in equity, diversity, and inclusion. “Basically, it is important for organizational leaders to avoid ‘delegating diversity’ in the hopes that it will somehow be taken care of,” Dr. Silver explained. She believes mentoring is good, “and sponsorship may be better.” However, she pointed out a common issue: “Mentoring is often used as an excuse to not promote qualified women by saying, ‘she needs more mentoring.’ This is a ‘blame the woman’ issue, and it is a serious critical thinking error. I will tackle this critical thinking error and many more during my talk.”