With a Little Work, We Can Improve Diversity in our Field

With a Little Work, We Can Improve Diversity in our Field

By Cheri L. Canon, MD
Our field has a diversity problem. Despite achieving gender parity in medical schools, the number of women in radiology training programs (approximately 25 percent) has been unchanged for more than a decade. (Numbers are even more dismal for underrepresented minorities). Our journals have explored this issue, and many of our national society meetings now explore this important discussion. Despite querying hypotheses, publishing survey results, and even implementing initiatives, we have not made a significant impact. In fact, at this slow pace, I will not enjoy or benefit from a diverse field in my professional lifetime. That’s unacceptable.
It’s not a lack of awareness of the problem. It is the complexity; it is multifactorial. So what can we do? Be more intentional and take the first step. Then continue to take additional steps, and don’t stop. What are the steps?
Sponsor our women
When at the table looking for an untapped leader, intentionally consider many candidates, both women and men. Sponsorship should be top of mind. Know the women who are ready to step up. They may need encouragement and support. If we don’t intentionally sponsor our women, we will fall prey to our implicit biases and reflexively sponsor those who may not be the best choice for a diverse team. As of now, most of the individuals at the proverbial table are men, so the sponsorship responsibility rests squarely on their shoulders.
Mentor our women
Provide coaching and support as they map their professional journey. Point out the pitfalls and roadblocks. Support them in their endeavors. Women need both female and male mentors who share varying perspectives and experiences. These are powerful teachers.
Exercise emotional intelligence
Be empathetic to others who are not as far down the road of diversity. Actively coax them along. Convince them of the strength of diverse teams and that they too have bias.
Be inclusive
Create a culture to make all feel welcome and nurtured. If you are a group leader, embrace alternative scheduling. This can be complicated and often comes with increased cost, but the cost is less than recurring recruitment and retention. Give no quarter to microaggressions, even if seemingly innocuous. They are never innocuous.
If we each commit to these few steps, we will go far on our journey of diversity with inclusion. It won’t solve the problem but it will move us in the right direction.
Be intentional. Start walking the walk.
Dr. Cheri Canon is a professor and Witten-Stanley Endowed Chair of Radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) School of Medicine. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Texas at Austin, followed by medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch, and residency training at UAB. She is co-director of SCARD-GE LEAD, a women’s leadership program, and a member of the ABR’s Board of Governors.
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