Lessons learned from 2021 International Women’s Day

Teresa Lai | 14 April 2021

The celebration of International Women’s Day is an important part of our commitment to inclusivity and advancing gender equality at Fishawack Health. Our colleagues share powerful messages and their ‘sliding doors moment’ in their drive for gender equality in healthcare, the workplace and as women in science.

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Each year is marked with a unique call to action for accelerating women’s equality. This year asked the world to ‘Choose to Challenge’ gender inequality with your own call to action in the fight towards gender parity.

Rising in solidarity, Fishawack Health spoke to both women and men across our UK and US offices to understand how they have chosen to challenge gender bias and inequality in their lives, celebrate and encourage women’s achievements in the workplace, and taken action to drive more inclusivity both in healthcare and more broadly in society.

Gender inequity in healthcare

Gender equality is a fundamental prerequisite for women’s health and wellbeing. So, from not being taken seriously in clinical settings to the discrepancy in access to and quality of healthcare based on race in addition to gender, the women at Fishawack Health have had their fair share of inequitable experiences. Shubha and Sherri from our Commercial team, Rebecca from our Medical team, and Jennifer, Head of Editorial Services share their personal accounts and thoughts.

“My GP told me my symptoms were all in my head. Turns out I had a disease, not a mental health condition. I fought for a simple blood test, which proved him wrong. Too many women are treated as hysterical and have to fight for their own wellbeing,” says Rebecca. Jennifer Weintraub, Head of Editorial Services, had a similar experience and adds, ‘’I have first-hand experience witnessing medical providers not taking a woman’s health concerns seriously. A clinical setting should be a safe environment to voice out personal health concerns, which should be taken seriously – this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed as primary education for practitioners.”

The occurrence is not limited to western societies. In India, Shubha’s place of birth, women have historically faced disparity in reproductive and maternal health. She emphasizes that “Five decades of significant progress now needs endorsement and collaboration with the government to ensure that progress is not reversed with the impact from the pandemic.” Initiatives like Janani Shushu Suraksha Karyakaram (Women and Children Protection Program) provide free healthcare to women throughout their pregnancy and their infants up to a year after birth. Additionally, benefit programs like the Janani Suraksha Yojana (Women Protection Plan), funded by the Indian Government through the National Health Mission, provides incentives to pregnant women to deliver in established health institutions.

Gender inequality in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

Race and gender continue to cause divergent and uneven outcomes for women and men, of color. This is particularly evident when looking at pregnancy and motherhood discrepancies, underrepresentation in clinical trials, wage discrimination, and occupational segregation.

Rebecca shares: “I can’t count how many times I’ve been told I don’t look like a scientist. A scientist looks like me! We need more women running the labs and in powerful academic positions to change these long-standing biases against women in science.

“As a black woman, it was sometimes hard to feel like I belonged in science because I was often asked, ‘what are you doing here?’ But I believed that my research mattered for science and society, and so I continued to show up. My success, and ultimately our collective successes, silence these questions.”

Sherri Wilkins, President of Commercial Services, highlights the issue of discrepancies in access to quality healthcare for our BIPOC peers around the world, despite leading numbers in maternal mortality, rate of injury, disproportionate health conditions, disparity in access and extreme underrepresentation in data. Much of the discrimination today happens through behavior that is subjectively unconscious.

Whilst unconscious bias can impact us all, inadvertently contributing to gender inequity is one of the biggest concerns. VP, Creative Director, Dawn Hastings believes that health education around implicit bias, and self-awareness of our own potential unconscious biases are critical to reverse these disparities.

Gender inequality in the workplace

Women have made remarkable strides leading up to 2021, with more women than ever in decision-making roles, sitting in leadership positions, and starting their own businesses – we seem to be on our way to success.

This could only be achieved by the perseverance of women who learn, early on, that women have the right to an equal seat around the table. AnneMarie Armstrong, Head of Client Services, US, speaks from personal experience. “Earlier in my career when I was promoted to my first VP role, the compensation was a shock. Inspired by a mentor to ‘know your worth,’ I spoke up and addressed the value I would bring to the role and that the compensation was not commensurate with my experience and new responsibilities. I received a revised offer and took on the new challenge feeling recognized and valued. Know your worth and advocate for yourself!”

Whilst it affects women directly, families are also affected. Dan O’Neill, Internal Communications Manager explains: “My wife was shut out of a previous job after giving birth because she was no longer in the right place at the right time – despite 20 years of media experience. Lots of female talent is lost because of this misunderstanding. A choice to start a family doesn’t compromise a women’s professional commitment!”

Thankfully, we’re heading in the right direction. Aoife van den Brande, Head of Strategy, Global adds: “One of the most promising signs of progress in gender equality in the workplace I’ve noticed is the emergence of a natural collegiality between women which was glaringly missing in the early days of my career, and yet was always so natural amongst the men. A real sign of progress.”

At Fishawack Health, we have an established Diversity and Inclusion team that exists to share knowledge and ensure that we have a respectful culture that welcomes everyone. Get in touch at talent@fishawack.com to find out more.

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