Women need advocates for leadership roles in radiology

The lack of female leadership in radiology could be countered with a "paradigm shift," wrote Carolyn Meltzer, MD, in her most recent editorial published in the Journal of American College of Radiology. She calls for more skill building, sponsorships and leadership support for women.

This shift, however, can only be achieved with the support of counter-stereotype exemplars and fellow male colleagues in radiology and medicine, according to the neuroradiologist and nuclear medicine physician from Emory University School of Medicine.  

Meltzer—who has held leadership positions for various radiology organizations, research initiatives and societies—noted two other recent firsts for women in radiology contributing to this shift: the appointment of Geraldine McGinty, MD, MBA as the American College of Radiology (ACR)'s first board chair in its 95-year history and Ruth Carlos, MD, MS, as the first woman editor of JACR.  

"These two highly capable colleagues are indeed deserving and promise to be transformative leaders in their new roles," Meltzer wrote. "Yet should we be still celebrating such 'firsts' at this point in our field’s evolution?"  

Leaders are often expected to be assertive, confident and ambitious, but these traits are usually associated with masculine characteristics, according to Meltzer. Consequently, female leaders who are compassionate, warm, or friendly may be viewed as inadequate and susceptible to backlash and criticism fueled by gender stereotypes. Generally, many women also feel that they must work hard and repeatedly prove their expertise to be respected in the workplace, or what Meltzer calls the "prove-it-again" syndrome. 

"The double bind that women face is posed by our commonly held perception of leadership characteristics as incongruent with what we think of as feminine," Metlzer wrote. "Gender stereotypes, particularly in male-dominated fields and organizations, serve to reinforce the existing gender hierarchy." 

Meltzer believes that persisting gender stereotypes and bias in radiology and society at large disrupt the learning cycle of leadership and attribute to women more commonly not identifying themselves earlier on as potential leaders. 

How can the lack of gender diverse leadership in radiology be combatted? Meltzer explained that an organization's mission and actions, position descriptions for leadership roles, and organizational behavior should exemplify a commitment to gender equity in leadership. 

For women currently holding leadership roles in medicine, Meltzer encourages them to possess a strong sense of identity, purpose and level of confidence, which can help other voices in the field. 

"I strongly encourage women to develop their own leadership styles that are both authentic and well aligned with their values," according to Meltzer. "This approach can positively alter our traditional perceptions of high-functioning organizations and shape them from within."