By Shyla Devi Gupta, Official Global Correspondent, G(irls)20 Summit 2016, Beijing, China
Imagine you are a young woman about to begin medical school; the future is bright. You are motivated to succeed and are on the path to becoming accomplished in your field.
Imagine that, then imagine if somehow your whole life has been turned upside down. Something so undermining is happening, and it threatens your ability to achieve your goals. You are facing gender discrimination in your workplace.
I am writing this blog to shed light on one of the biggest issues facing women around the world. It’s amazing how we have become unaware of the sheer amount of gender discrimination that occurs behind the scenes in the workplace, specifically in the medical field. This issue continues to be a career-limiting and degrading experience for women all across the world. It has a severely negative impact on female labour force participation, and in turn the global economy.
I am fortunate enough to live in an openly pro-equality country (Canada), as demonstrated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recently appointed cabinet with gender parity. I have seen how women’s productivity contributes to the nation’s economic health; it is imperative that everyone reading this blog understands that great economic benefits can be derived from a gender discriminatory-free workplace. It’s quite simple actually: sexual harassment and bias diverts attention from achieving work goals, breeds negativity, causes low productivity and affects a woman’s confidence. Gender discrimination and harassment is a proven obstacle to the integration of women into the labour market.
Statistics from the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) show that sexual harassment can prevent women from earning a living or even cause them to drop out of school. To me, this is unfathomable. Why is this barrier not being addressed, not only for the human reason, but to also to ensure women can to join the medical field and stimulate the economy?
This year’s G(irls)20 Summit delegate from Australia, Maria Bilal, is a fourth year medical student at the University of Newcastle. After speaking with Maria and really getting to the root of her passion for medicine, it’s clear that she’s dedicated to creating change regarding one of today’s biggest challenges, sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
I’ve spent my life growing up in a family of physicians and remain astonished by the determination it takes to be an outstanding physician. Hours of intense studying at university, physically demanding time spent in residency, and even being on call and juggling endless responsibilities once schooling is complete. All of this is part of the lifestyle. “Being a medical student is thrilling,” says Maria. “I was very aware of the hard work I needed to put in when I began, and it has been a tough journey. But I am motivated and resilient to become a physician.”
You would think, in 2016, a woman would have the ability to report sexual harassment and feel comfortable to do so. I asked Maria why she thought sexual harassment at work is still such an issue. Having read through the research, she believes that the systems in place for medical students were created by men, for men. Even in our supposedly progressive world, women continue to be treated like outsiders. The unconscious bias in the field of medicine is the reasons people feel surprised when a woman is in a position of leadership or power, instead of the feeling of normalcy. This sexist mindset has become so regular that standing up against it could have negative consequences, such as being blacklisted or labelled as a troublemaker in the workplace.
Maria’s passion for standing up against sexism in the medical field stems from a combination of having experienced gender discrimination herself and her experience from holding leadership positions. After hearing some of the sexist comments that professionals have made to Maria, I was shocked. Her ‘take-action’ attitude and incessant desire to ensure everyone’s voices are heard is deeply inspiring.
After the summit, each delegate returned home to start their own initiative in their countries. Maria’s post summit initiative is focused on ensuring medical students are able to report discrimination and sexual harassment. Her ultimate goal is to make sure woman are safe and respected in an already challenging environment. To date, she’s working with several partners, including Medical Deans of Australia and New Zealand to help achieve gender equality in medicine.
In US Vice President Joe Biden’s letter to the Stanford sexual assault survivor, Anita Hill, he expressed the overall sentiment of disappointment and anger towards the passivity of school culture. Women who have worked hard to attend university and become professionals are limited by lack of reporting structure for discrimination; I find it unfair that something so fixable is stopping women from being able to work. Women, specifically female labour force participation, are a driving force for our global economy. Efforts must be made to create a cultural shift when it comes to working women. The next time you see gender discrimination or sexual harassment in your workplace, I encourage you to stand up and speak up! It’s on all of us, men and women, to make a difference.