Following an inspirational piece by Dr Reshma Jagsi written in The New England Journal of Medicine; Prof Tess would like to include her own narrative regarding gender in the workplace.
Celebrities have recently become vocal against sexual misconduct, discrimination and marginalization in the workplace. Most disciplines have their own demons to conquer; however it has become a universal problem to manage cases of inequity against women. It is reported that more than 30% of working women will and have encountered some form of prejudice or intimidation. However, that is not the jaw-dropping factor. The concept that will knock one down with a feather is the fact that this research is only based off of reported incidents of inequality in the workplace.
Prof Tess is a woman far ahead of the times. Regardless of her prominence as a female aficionado in the medical industry; she is also a single mother and self-proclaimed matriarch to her two children and six dogs. Being a female force-to-be-reckoned-with was not always an easy path and therefore she has a passion for female empowerment and therefore would like to share her message and anecdote regarding her own experiences in medicine.
Prof Tess describes the 80s, 90s and the early 00s as periods where subtle discrimination against women ruled supreme in medicine. At the time Prof was starting out in medicine and was already showcasing talent and adeptness in her profession. Many male chauvinists took threat to this phenomena of a young beauty queen being able to, might we say it, be more proficient at their jobs than they were. Emotional bullying, rumoring and subtle discriminations in the form of job denials based on gender was the arsenal used against many women in medicine from Prof's perspective. Locker-room clubs within the academia were the drivers of opressing women through tormenting and misleading to others the identity of apt women for personal gain.
Prof draws a comparison by stating that women were treated like children. They were to be seen, perhaps perform, but never to be heard. If instances of emotional blackmail or bullying was evident; superiors would expect a woman to tolerate it. It would be out of place for her to voice her opinion or resist gender-based exploitation. It was a constant battle to constantly prove yourself as a female powerhouse of expertise who deserved the right to be heard and respected.
Perhaps many of these subtle abuses have died with the times for some, perhaps not for many. Prof Tess is in a position where she understands that a few things need to change for women similar to herself to not only thrive in medicine; but any career they choose. She believes that there should be an independent body in South Africa that is untied to the business you operate in; where legal action can be taken against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. There is no infrastructure where women can lay a complaint without fearing for the security of their positions as most matters are dealt with internally.
Secondly, surely it is time in our society to realize the importance of flexi-hours for young mothers. This is a problem that Prof faced and believes that as a society we need to accommodate mothers to keep the juggle together. It should be stressed that by no means does having lenient hours mean that work quality would decrease, or that hours would be decreased in comparison to someone else in the position. It is merely being able to be compassionate of women and all the responsibility they often have to carry, and especially if it is carried alone, as in so many instances. Emancipated women should be the judge of whether a woman is doing her part in society, and not someone foreign to her struggle.
The beauty queens have brains and mothers are matriarchs. Perceptions and practices need to change to give rise to the modern woman. The woman who, like Prof, is not afraid of being heard, seen and above all respected in all the components she chooses to thrive in. Where does it start? With mentoring our girls to not ever be a powerful woman in a man's world; but to be a powerful person in the world alone.