Female representation in the dental profession – is it important and can the profession change it?

female dentistJayne Sproson talks about female representation in the dental profession and details some of the experiences that female dentists are going through.

Oh the irony!

Here I am giving my views on the under representation of females in the dental world: at shows, events and board memberships – and what pops up on my calendar? It is Women’s Equality Day. They celebrate it in the USA every 26 August.

This year the theme is generation equality.

Is this just another initiative giving lip service to the idea?

There are plenty of stats available regarding the number of female dentists in the dental profession. The point is that if female dentists are proportionately higher, then why are they underrepresented in all these other areas.

Whilst I am most grateful to Seb Evans at Dentistry Online for giving me this opportunity to write about this subject, it amazes me in 2020 that this is ‘a thing’. What would Lilian Lindsay have said?

Change in attitude

Male principals, I am sure you are aware you are so going to need to tap into the female expertise in the profession in the very near future.

For this to be a success there needs to be some real change in attitudes and behaviour.

The below graph from the BDA shows that representation in NHS dentistry of female dentists is rising.

Jenny Pinder has already established that the majority of dental students are of Asian heritage, female and of middle class/working class background.

Two things here – where are the role models for them to aspire to? And this suggests there will be a shortage of dentists in the future, with many returning to work part time. As the BDA states, the dental profession is attractive to women wanting to achieve a work-life balance.

Barriers for women to progress in dentistry

A few years ago, I called a meeting to find out why women were not putting themselves forward as speakers, board members and social media influencers as much as their male colleagues. I also put a video out on various platforms this week about this subject. I was inundated with messages. My thanks also to the support from male dentists.

The overall theme was that it is time to speak up. But not every female colleague has the courage to do so. We don’t want to rock the boat, so we fume in silence.

I am happy to take the bullet! Many tell me to expect it.

However, I suspect the majority of the anonymous comments that I am going to share with you now, you will find predictable. Others are shocking and say a lot about how attitudes and behaviour does need to change if we are to see any progress. Please send me your views:

Anonymous quotes

‘As we move away from autocratic archaic leadership style in practice moving toward a team approach to patient care, the female approach is more appropriate to owning a practice. But can I do this successfully? I am concerned that both my career and family would suffer. Statistics only seem to support my decision.’

‘I have resigned from a dental committee recently due to the outrageous sexist comments which the men involved, thought hilarious. How do they think this Donald Trump approach to their colleagues is acceptable? And some of them have daughters!’

Until a societal change is brought about, the inspirational women will continue to feel discouraged and disempowered to fulfil their dreams. They care too much about what others think about them.’

‘I struggle to put my work up there just to be knocked down. And I don’t have thick enough skin enough to live with all the hate on social media.’

‘I feel social media bragging quite abhorrent. Some of the work shown has not seen any longevity and it is misleading patients. It is not something I want involvement in.’

‘Public speaking and generally putting yourself out there means a lot of potential criticism. I already feel undervalued, so why would I put myself in that position?’

‘I asked a question on Facebook about lack of female representation. And I got a huge amount of abuse from men. Essentially it was cyber bullying’.

‘I was asked to speak, but it is not really me. I feel guilty that I did not say yes. Especially when we are always saying we want these opportunities.’

‘When I went through my menopause, I would be crawling out of bed exhausted and had brain fog for months. My confidence plummeted. I had to wing it without any support or understanding from my male colleagues. I very seriously considered giving up dentistry.’

‘Just after giving birth to my baby, I invested in CPD in the US. Even then, the men on the course (I was the only female) question the commitment of females to the profession. I felt guilty every day I was away from my baby.’

‘I have been side-lined plenty of times for their golf buddies. It is all about jobs for the boys.’

‘Whilst my partner helps in the house, I take the mental load. That takes time and is unseen work. There is a limit to what I can do even though I would like to be more involved.’

‘My child was seriously ill and my husband was out of work. I have no energy for anything other than getting through my work and being a carer at home. But I take my hat off to those women who do so much more.’

‘They tell me I am irrelevant – nobody knows me and I am past it!’

FYI, the last comment was from me.

Apparently having 28 years in the business of dentistry and 18 in facial aesthetics accounts for nothing. Nor did they bother to find out that I am Chartered Institute of Marketing qualified in strategic digital marketing!

A fellow coach was told she wouldn’t make it. She was the wrong shape. This would be hilarious if it was not so ignorant.

Exceptions

You might see the comments as excuses – I see them a valid reasons.

We women do, however, have to take as much responsibility as men – but we need their support.

I cannot give hard evidence. But I can say anecdotally from working in the dental sector for 28 years, owning my own practice and helping over 1,000 practices develop their business, I have yet to see the huge shift in attitude from either side required to deal with this serious problem.

Collaboration is fundamental to success.

Dentists have never been particularly good at this in my opinion. They appear to always be living in fear of another dentist judging their work or stealing ‘their business’.

Of course, there are exceptions. But it is sad, worrying and downright appalling that they are the exceptions.

‘Without visual representation eg female speakers, we cannot change the perceived conception about who can lead. More female leaders would also help to close the pay gap’ – Dr Arti Singh.

Ladies who do dentistry

So that is the bad news. But it is not all doom and gloom. The dental profession is taking action.

Following the feedback from that meeting, we established a group called Ladies who do dentistry. The aim is to fulfil the need for women to have a place to share their experiences and offer advice to younger female dentists.

This was lambasted by some, who did not bother to find out what it was about but took exception to the name.

There are enough female dentists who do not need to define themselves as ‘women in dentistry’. They enjoy the social side and still find being called lady a compliment. So the name (at least for now) remains.

There are nearly 300 members now. And certain male colleagues have shown real support for this.

The likes of Dr Tracey Bell who runs a level seven post-graduate course in facial aesthetics at Salford University has given her time for free to help those considering this offering.

LWDD has an annual conference on the Saturday nearest to International Women’s Day. With both female and male speakers.

The feedback for this is terrific. Well done to the board of the BACD for backing this. And that was a board full of men, other than Dr Carol Somerville Roberts. We are making progress!

Making progress

In 1985 Dr Linda Greenwall started Women In Dentistry. It is now called the Women’s Dentist Network (WDN).

She is collaborating with the BACD LWWD, by agreeing for LWDD members to interview her.

WDN has worked tirelessly to make changes in the pension, maternity and financial wellbeing of women in the profession.

Linda is a very inspiring woman with her own practice, an author of numerous books, lectures and is a full time practitioner. Not to mention bringing up four boys! I am looking forward to working with her very soon.

Self-actualisation

By accomplishing self-actualisation, you are able to find meaning and purpose in our life. You are able to say you truly ‘lived’.

We need to consider that owning expensive fast cars, collecting designer watches or being an ‘Instaglam’ dentist is not most of the profession’s idea of self-actualisation.

But these seem to be the things on which some of the profession’s dentists measure success.

For many women, they aim for a happy balance of home and work.

Two very good female dental colleagues of mine both started out with the intention to develop their practice into a mini group. When they discover how tough it is to run one practice, a home and care for a family, they drop their ambitions.

The success tax is too high for what they want from their lives. Again, I wonder if collaboration would have been the way to go here?

Greatness is possible

Dr Brene Brown says: ‘Vulnerability is not a weakness, it is your biggest strength. Women need to know that openness to vulnerability is a strength. You then live your life aligned to your values.’

Oprah Winfrey puts her success down to being vulnerable to her audience. You cannot get to greatness without walking through the door of vulnerability.

I would like to leave you to consider this from Seth Godin from his book Tribes: we need you to lead us: ‘Leaders lead when they take positions where they can connect with their tribes. And when they help the tribe connect to itself.’

My view is that unless we can get the male influencers in the profession to come to the table wanting to understand and support their female colleagues and benefit from the synergy, then I can only foresee a missed opportunity and further polarisation.

So, chaps, there is your challenge. Are you up for that?

If you do not want to do it for us, then do it for your wife, your sister and your daughters.

You can have a massive impact on the future of dentistry for the good. Is that not a great legacy?

Please let us all start valuing kindness and tolerance as something to aspire to, rather than just dominance. Let’s start validating female leadership with actions.

Perhaps we can start with dental editorial. Apparently, women only represent around 14% of dental editorial boards.


Workshop opportunity

Dr Linda Greenwall and I recently discussed how often, your net worth is equal to your network.

In fact, my mentor told me that your net worth is equal to your self-worth. We want to help those women (and men), who do not know their self-worth.

We are planning a workshop that will look at the imposter syndrome and how to increase your self-worth.

If any of this article resonates with you, please register your interest at www.thejaynesprosonconsultancy.co.uk.

This is a small intimate event. So it is on a first-come first-serve basis.

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