Speaker: Alison Cowan MD, MSCR, Medical Director, Diagnostic Solutions Hologic, Inc.
Why is Women’s History Month important to you? How are you celebrating?
Alison Cowan MD, MSCR: Women's History Month is important to me because of really how far we've come in the last 100 years. And so while it's always important to reflect on the progress yet to be made, it's also important to pause and celebrate the amazing accomplishments of the women that have come before us. When I reflect on my own family, my great grandmother was born before women had the right to vote in the United States and she grew up and became a school teacher. And at the time that she was married, she was not allowed to continue working as a schoolteacher as a married woman. And so she and her husband actually lived separately for a while and were married secretly because she wanted to continue teaching first graders. And eventually she did have to stop once they began their public married life together. Um, reflecting then on her daughter, my grandmother. My grandmother was working at a at a company when she became pregnant with her first child. So she was able to work while married. But when she was pregnant, she talks about having to conceal her pregnancy for as long as possible. And she did not want to publicly disclose that because once that was disclosed, then she too would be required to stop working. And so, um, so it was a big um, it was a big challenge for her to work for as long as she could. And then she also ended her early career at that point and stayed home for several years to care for her children once she started her family. So when I reflect on that, and the fact that I as her granddaughter, have have the privilege of being a physician, a leader in women's health and my company. As well as the privilege of being a wife and a mother, I feel so thankful for the work of my mother, grandmother, great grandmother and for all of the women that have really done so much in the last 100 years to make progress.
2022's International Women's Day theme is #BreakTheBias. Can you speak to biases we can work to break in our communities and/or workplaces?
Alison Cowan MD, MSCR: When I think about bias in the workplace, the first thing I think of is how subtle it can be. And so whereas bias against women used to be quite explicit and formalized, we used to not be able to have our own credit cards or not have the right to vote. We used to be excluded from certain educational opportunities quite explicitly. We no longer face those explicit biases, but we do face daily implicit bias and that is incredibly insidious and difficult to prove and thus difficult to combat. One really interesting example, I think of implicit bias against women, was a few years ago there was a study published on the Supreme Court Justices and their communication styles. And they analyzed these communications and found that even at the Supreme Court level the female Supreme Court justices are much more likely to be interrupted while speaking than are the male Supreme Court Justices. And this study was incredibly powerful to read. As a woman, I have often felt that I've been spoken over and interrupted. And so reading this data saying that even at the highest levels women are facing this challenge. It made me think about the ways in which I show up at work and in meetings and how I can contribute by trying to avoid allowing others to speak over me, but also by trying to avoid speaking over others. It is so important that we all really explicitly and proactively try to listen better, especially listening to women who are speaking because without half of the expertise and knowledge in the room, we certainly will never get as far. So um, so just to advocate for really thinking about our communication styles, how we are listening to each other, and especially to make sure that we are listening equally to the women who are in the room along with the men.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women as they begin their careers?
Alison Cowan MD, MSCR: When I think about the advice I would give to early career women, I really think about the role of self limiting beliefs in goal setting. So I think it's so incredibly important for everyone really at every phase in their career to think about where they would like to be in their career in a year, in five years, and even in 10 years. And we may not be able to predict all of those things, certainly careers can be unpredictable, but just having goals in mind and then thinking about those goals, again, taking a step back and saying, am I reaching for everything that I could be reaching for? Do I have any self limiting beliefs that are holding me back from reaching for something that I truly want, but haven't even acknowledged to myself that I want. Um if you can really dig deep and do that examination, thinking about where you would like to be um in your career, then you can have the opportunity to reflect on what skills you need to be building on and working towards in the next year, five years and 10 years to ultimately get where you'd like to be. And no matter where your goals lead you to. I think that the value of mentorship really can't be overestimated. So connecting with people who are doing things that you are interested in. Connecting with people who are excellent in some aspect that you'd like to emulate um can help you so much to learn from them. And so many people are incredibly willing to share their experiences and to give you advice about how to get to that next step in your career. So, seeking out mentorship is so key. And then finally, when you get to a point where you feel like you're ready to become a mentor to others um and and pay it forward to the people who are a little behind you in terms of their career path. So I frequently talk with younger women or people who are interested in transitioning to a career like mine. And I do that because so many people helped me along the way and I try to take the learnings that I benefited from, share them with others who are trying to walk the same path, and then really just try to listen to them about what their goals are so that we can make sure together that we are helping them to build the skills that they need to get them to where they'd like to be. And that's how I think we can achieve so much as women in the workplace um is by helping each other mentoring each other and um and just having these conversations and relationships that can help teach both sides so much.