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It is not every day that one deals with casual sexism at work unless one is a woman. Just the other day, I had a senior physician question my career choices. He asked me why I was on a job that requires extensive travel when I am a woman, who obviously has family and responsibilities. This wasn’t a first for me, also this is not going to be the last, but I have decided to be vocal about it.
Casual sexism at the workplace often masquerades as an innocent, benevolent comment. It may be automatically assumed that women are the only gender to nurture families or hold accountable for responsibilities that come with them. Or that women are not physically fit for jobs that need extensive travelling. One may also receive pieces of advice on what the appropriate career choices for women could be. Sometimes, it could manifest as not being assigned tasks or missed opportunities due to gender.
Irrespective of gender, public health careers are indeed a tough but a very satisfying choice. Those long hours in the field strengthen one’s technical knowledge and real-world skills. Sources on the Internet says that women make the majority among graduates in public health.
In their article published in Public Health Reports, Leider et al discuss that between 2005 and 2016, the percentage of public health degrees awarded to women ranged from 70 to 73 percent.* However, the same is not reflected in leadership positions in public health, with merely one-fourth of these positions being held by women.
It is time for young female public health professionals to build their career in their fields of choice so that in days to come, there is equal representation of genders in leadership posts. It is widely acknowledged that since a large proportion of global health issues involve women, the presence of women in leadership can not only shape governance and policies, but also pave ways and opportunities for the next generation of women leaders.
So, what did I do?
I told this person that while it is indeed a taxing pathway for anyone, I have the right to pursue the career of my choice and enjoy it too. By doing so, I am doing right not to just myself, but also to all women, who want to pursue any career of their choice.
*Leider J, Plepys C, Castrucci B, Burke E, Blakely C. Trends in the Conferral of Graduate Public Health Degrees: A Triangulated Approach. Public Health Reports. 2018;133(6):729-737.