Join us on Wednesday 3rd July 5.30pm to find out how women in omfs can make a difference. Dinner afterwards - book now to not miss out! see you there x
Please click here to book.
Ahoy there dear ladies!! Welcome to SWiMS at Sea as we sail into our first ever conference, hosted in the most glamorous of settings. The eight months of creating a conference like nothing we have ever attended seem to have blown by like a zephyr and the pleasure it has brought to us has been immeasurable. The goal: to create a safe place where the amazing stories of truly inspiring people could be told freely; enticing us to stare out to the offing and dare to know what lies beyond. The wonderful ideas and thoughts shared on our forum very much moulded the design for our conference – Get the Balance Right. It was clear that despite the women of OMFS being highly skilled and dedicated, that many of us have felt at times in our careers isolated, less valued or poorly understood. Those moments have influenced us all and at times made us stronger and other times broken us. But this is a time of evolving culture and society: the fourth wave of feminism is here and this is not a wave to miss out on. Today is a time when we remember the strength of our courageous female predecessors who stood with banners and chains fighting for the right to just be seen. These were then followed by the fight for the right to protect our bodies and exist beyond the restrictions of enforced marital duty and social stereotype. Today we are empowered by the power of media and our voices can be heard from our homes, from our workplaces and even our phones. It is time to say “no more” to the glass ceiling that lies above us, placed by a medieval societal influence seemingly obsessed with stopping us from jumping too high. Imagine all the amazing talent that has been missed because of it. A scandal indeed! Its legacy echoing even today in stifling imposter syndrome, self-doubt and societal biases. Today is a time to believe that we can break it and breathe in a new air of optimism. Gone are the days of Dr James Barry who had to become a man to work as one or more recently the days when a woman has to dress up to impress the men to progress. As I write of this, one imagines that I write of millennia ago when we wore little and foraged for food …..but oh no this tragic past stretched into the last 40 years and some of it still prevails today.
Let this conference be our symbol of strength and identity as we sail in any direction that we choose, with women positively welcomed at the helm standing alongside and equal to progressive and modern male colleagues who subscribe to a more diverse sort of club. This a time for greater listening; greater understanding and more inclusive collaboration that defies gender, race, origin or appearance.
This week has taken me on a voyage of cities to four conferences (three oncological and one SWiMS) in seven days. Part of me always dreads attending oncological conferences where a sea of suits greets you in your dress and makes you feel like a fish out of water but this year was different; what I saw gave me such hope; a hope that has eluded me for the last twenty years that I have attended conferences. The hashtags #ilooklikeasurgeon #whyibecameasurgeon #changethenorm #metoo and #nomoremanels seem to be working with power of the voices of many thousands coming together and smashing that glass. I saw panels with women excelling and contributing; I saw women leading and free to show it and I say Bravo to the British Association of Head and Neck Oncologists and the National Skin Cancer meeting organisers for embracing the future so impressively. In my fifth decade on this earth I feel like I am living through a truly historic time. I take this moment to climb to the top of the mast and shout out a loud applause to Jennifer Graystone who shone amidst a line of blue suits at this year’s controversies in head and neck oncology meeting. Below in the images let us applaud all of the women who shone this week in meetings. And let us also applaud the male organisers who believed in equity and fairness.
With this gusto on board, I arrived in Bristol at the end of the week with an almost child-like excitement for the two days that were to follow. Coincidence or maybe even destiny made this a unique weekend with not one but two conferences of medical women back to back. The first being a conference of the oldest Federation of medical women in the UK: The Medical Women’s Federation (MWF) and the second, the first conference of the youngest society of medical women in the UK, our own Society of Women in Maxillofacial Surgery. It felt like we were standing beside a much-beloved relative holding its arms out to welcome us and welcome us they did with the camaraderie of old friendship.
With my sails full of the warm air of friendship I met with some of our organising committee and council ready to assemble the finishing touches to our first ever SWiMS Conference. I watched a youtube video today of little lamb bouncing around and THAT is how I was feeling inside (https://youtu.be/jAJg0cavdmo)! Wearing our beautiful new SWiMS Lanyards poised like Cartier wreaths around our necks (a design made by our own Nabeela Ahmed and surely destined to spark lanyard envy across the country for months to come), we welcomed our wonderful platinum sponsors KLS Martin in the form of their UK sales director Simon Clarke and his colleague Laura Hickey. Apart from being a great family-run company, KLS martin have believed in our vision from before we were conceived and have been our vocal and financial supporters from the very beginning. Gratitude is a too small word. Our gold sponsor the HCSA came next in the form of none other than Dr Claudia Paoloni, their first ever female president. This was the HCSA’s first experience of our society and I was truly excited to show her who we are and listen to her talk.
As people started to arrive and the room filled, a true sense of camaraderie and a mutual understanding was evident. At that moment I saw with my own eyes that SWiMS truly had grown into a family; a home for people to network with and support each other. This was our dream. Here it was a reality and my heart skipped inside of me. My own introduction was a chance to look out at the audience and tell our story as a little amuse-bouche to whet the appetite in advance of the sumptuous banquet of speeches that was to follow.
EntreeFirst course began with Lynne Fryer’s beautiful rendition of the thrilling and yet often tragic stories of the women who carved a career of surgery for women out of what was more hostile than granite. Engrossing tales of mockery, humiliation, rejection, patience, perseverance, resignation, courage and resurgence. The perplexing journey to where we are, which is still not yet perfect, has been like spectating the integration of an alien species into the profession. With 50% of the population being women, this history acquires a surrealism and tragedy which becomes even more unjust when one looks back to thousands of years ago when women worked as surgeons without retribution. Can it really be that this not-so-ancient medieval doctrine still governs society’s perceptions of women today and frames innate unconscious prejudices and biases as though eternal?
To complete this course we were treated to a new and fascinating perspective of the equally chequered history and congoing challenges .of women as aviators told inspiringly by Mike Davidson, Pilot and Union representative. My choice of title “women in the cockpit” was justifiably chastised and I confess my cheeks blushed red (ok maybe not red but I felt rather flushed) in the realisation of the name Cock– pit and the brutal image of cocks fighting to the death…..never thought of that!! Move away from any other thoughts that may have crossed your minds 😉. Gasps of misogynistic stereotypes filled the room; but how could we have never noticed something so blatant? The correct term is the flight deck. That’s one that I shall not forget. It really is about the language that we speak. Are we all pre-programmed to ascribe terms to different genders? For every assertive and proactive man in leadership there is a comparable woman who is labelled with derogatory terms such as bossy or aggressive. This labelling traverses all professions as demonstrated here and makes us think of the language we all use that ultimately underpins the complex human factors that influence our response to others and the way they might respond to us. This is how erroneous social stereotypes perpetuate and traverse the generations. Food indeed for thought.
Left: Ambre Davidson helping her father with his presentation
Right: Mike Davidson
Coffee and Brunch More networking and a little snack to curb our hunger in anticipation of another course of delectable talks. Avocado, Savoury breakfast buns, granola bars, coffee and much chatter.
Second CourseAs we delved into yet another exciting dimension, this time the military, we found ourselves truly honoured to welcome my friend Michelle Carns from the US Military. This indeed was an innovative course calling on the wonders of modern digital and communication technology which enabled us to transmit a video recorded thousands of miles away as well using transmitted phone to speak to her live. The message from Michelle as Mother and Leader rang true for all of us:
Speaking live, she spoke of cultural change and the power of language. “Speak the language that you wish others to speak”. Be patient in creating change to bring people along with you. As a leader never forget to be approachable and create around you a safe place for people in trouble to come to. Never forget to look after yourself and invest in your relationships at work and at home. Never underestimate the power of diversity and tolerance.
Michelle Carns, Officer in the US Military
From one exemplary female leader we moved on to the next. Dr Claudia Paoloni. President of the HCSA, Consultant Cardiothoracic anaesthetist and mother. Watching this talk was like biting into a dish that from the outside looked interesting but inside was exhilarating. Oh to listen to the wisdom of a life that has taken many unforeseen turns; on first glance these might appear to be disasters but in reality presented unforeseen opportunities that led to a fulfilling and exciting career and life. Claudia shared the importance of planning for the future and dealing with factors that can change your whole life like her own journey with cancer. This was not a radical union speech, it was a heartfelt story of an extraordinary person whose own experiences left the audience amazed, empowered and feeling brave. To finish this brilliant speech we watched a video that I strongly recommend you watch any time you feel fed up. If you watch past the Hollywood-esq drama there is a great message for us all: Do what is difficult: Nothing great comes without a struggle but you must do what you desire with conviction and commitment and ride through the setbacks and opposition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdjHG_bGKhk&list=PLfGxWnWZHFmRZlo_zzDwzzp_P1Ljpvr0s – chase your dreams.
Dr Claudia Paoloni (HCSA President)
LunchThe rooms filled again with chatter and laughter as lunch was consumed with an eagerness to proceed to the next course of talks. An energy flowed around the room. A feeling of satisfaction at being part of an empowering day.
This course was the journey into routes to leadership. Our first speaker, Maire Morton, first ever and still the only yet, female president of The British Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons. Once again we heard that the path to leadership is not a well-versed route that many have walked. Instead it is like standing at the foot of an awe-inspiring mountain. You have to have vision, drive, patience and resilience to achieve your goals. Every new leadership goal we pursue is enriched with a journey of new learning which makes it an exciting adjunct to our clinical lives. To be a great leader you need to instil in others a sense of positivity and belief in your vision. But how to get there? The key is role models, mentors and coaches. Look at your CV and fill it with the things that will help you achieve your goals. Ultimately look at every mountain and love it for its beauty, its challenges and the sense of achievement it can bring to you. As a society it was our honour to offer Maire honorary lifetime membership in recognition of the role model she has been to us as past president of BAOMS, driver of the GIRFT campaign and great colleague.
The next inspiring leader to take to the podium was Professor Farah Bhatti, Cardiothoracic surgeon, Chairwoman of the RCS WINS group, Member of Council of the Royal College, FRCS examiner, and much more. Apart from transmitting a lifelong passion for surgery, Farah also showed that there are really no barriers to achieving your goals. The key is to get the right support in mentors and role models. Accept that the life of surgical training is not always easy and that relationships are very important. Through examples like Scarlett McNally, Farah emphasised that it is possible to be a mother and a surgeon; campaigns like “I am and a female surgeon and….” demonstrated that it is possible to have the life of a surgeon and still find balance in life and that each of us can be leaders. With her drive and example Farah transmitted her enthusiasm to believe in yourselves and ignore the sense of barriers around you – you really can do anything!
We had heard from everyone the importance of mentors and coaching but it was the next talk from Dr Ann Harvey, consultant anaesthetist, mother and coaching and mentoring lead in Cornwall, which put how to do that into context. My reason for inviting her soon became apparent as she spoke of her hard work integrating mentoring and coaching into our trust. After taking us to a calm place she spoke about her own life from convent school to breaking the mould and driving change. She spoke of how opposition to her vision was overcome by her own determination to succeed and what underpinned that was self-belief. She highlighted the importance of being aware of your own situation and state of mind and showed how the wheel of life and simple tools like a simple graph showing your balance between doing and being can influence your own self-reflection and life-planning. I was rather horrified in mine how much the doing (working) was disproportionally surpassing by ability to be (enjoy life)….hmm a project indeed for me! The role of mentoring and coaching is a bidirectional and powerful process through which we can seek solution for ourselves and help others. Look out in your own trusts how you can get involved!
Coffee Break and Cakes So much energy and happiness filled the room at this point and oh the cakes were divine 😊…..a particular passion of mine. Onwards to the dessert course.
Fourth Course One might ask what more inspiration could we possibly have found to add to the amazing speakers before and the answer to that would be a simple one: there is always room for more and for this course we selected a group of our own inspiring ladies from the UK and even Switzerland. Unlike other conferences where people term this part the graveyard slot, it was clear that people were hungry for more and oh gosh were they rewarded!!
The first team to the podium were our resident superwomen Victoria Beale and Jennifer Graystone who truly left us on the edges of our seats as they spoke of their amazing stories of running marathons and cycling to the dizzy heights of the tour de France. Through their stories they inspired us all to imagine a life less-ordinary. It really is possible to commit to great adventures alongside work and raise lots of money for charity in the process. What both fabulous presentations gave us was evidence once again that with the right priorities in place you can lead a fulfilling life inside and outside of work and yes, within each of us there is hidden potential. What might yours be?
The next team up were supermums Ambika Chadha and Nabeela Ahmed whose double act left us all speechless. In all my years of attending conferences I have heard mutterings of the challenges facing women in surgical training who also decide to have a family but this talk was in a league of its own. A huge wake-up call reminding us all of the unacceptable discrimination and disparity affecting women who pursue less than full time working. The trauma of miscarriage and the sense of guilt that mothers working can carry; that being both mother and surgical trainee makes them not always able to be everything to everyone. We heard how they were afraid to speak out against discrimination and inequity and how isolated they felt at times. We heard about the challenges of having a family at an older age and the physical impact that that can have on a woman. There was a clear message from this: Be kind to yourself and put the health of you and your baby first; Being pregnant and having a career in surgery are compatible but expect the route to be not always as you planned it. Seek support in your life and team and consider less than full-time working to support your return to work in a sympathetic and safe way.
Our final talk by Dr Isabelle Berg, brought us back to the domain of work in the context of innovation. Her own work developing and teaching a new technique in Switzerland and Israel and the challenges that surround innovation as a woman highlighted the importance of surrounding yourself with a good team your can work with and trust. With only two female maxillofacial consultants in Switzerland her story brought home to us all how much we need more women in maxillofacial surgery and that this in not just in the UK.
And with this our day of lectures came to and end as we retired to our rooms to prepare ourselves for an evening with a difference. Let me set the scene and follow the collage below. It is the roaring 1930s and the SWiMS society is embarking on a cruise to the USA to the first ever women in surgery conference. Onboard is an actress and her sickly husband; an adoring, if obsessive fan; many surgeons; a ships engineer and the captain and his family ……amongst them is a murderer and through the meal, disaster strikes…..but who did the dastardly deeds?
The next day we awoke to our day of rest and networking. The survivors of the night before visited the SSGB where we had a wonderful private tour. This was followed by a delicious lunch at the River Station before saying our final au revoir in anticipation of our next reunion.
For me this conference was everything I could have hoped for and so much more. It showed the true tour de force of women and supportive men when they come together and support eachother. I make no apologies for the bumper blog on what can only be described as a truly awe-inspiring, soul-enriching and morale-boosting week in the life of our beautiful specialty, oral and maxillofacial surgery and its extraordinary women and friends united though SWiMS. Be inspired because you are all amazing!
President and Co-founder of SWiMS
Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon
The Royal Cornwall Hospital
Since the last general election in 2015, the number of women in Parliament has climbed by almost a third, showing that women in politics have come a long way in the last century. It actually seems almost unbelievable that less than 100 years ago women weren’t even allowed to vote. In the same vein, it’s also hard to believe less than 100 years ago, women weren’t allowed to become commercial pilots. Although this has long since changed, it seems that women haven’t been quick to take to the skies, with females still only making up 5% of commercial pilots worldwide, a statistic reflected in British aviation. Whatever the reasons for the low uptake, the very fact that some airlines are looking to encourage women to enter the profession is a long way from where commercial airlines started. With the extra obstacles they had to overcome on account of their gender, in the early days of aviation women had to demonstrate immense bravery simply to follow their passion.
No place for a woman
Regardless of some pioneering women in the early days of flight, perhaps most notably of course Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson, decades later women still faced difficulties when trying to break into aviation. Yvonne Pope Sintes, the first British female jet airline captain, revealed some of these struggles in her published book, Trailblazer in Flight: Britain's First Female Jet Airline Captain. Until the 1960s, women wanting an airline career were destined to be air stewardesses—and this is exactly how Yvonne began her career. After being turned down by the RAF, who said they wouldn’t train women pilots, she became a stewardess in the hope that the pilots would teach her how to fly. And indeed one captain, who had been an instructor during the war, offered to help. Once she had attended to passengers he would tutor her.
Despite all the odds, Yvonne joined Morton Air Services in 1965 but faced criticism from her colleagues – from both men and women. Other women viewed her with suspicion and as she recalls, made comments that the cockpit wasn’t a place for women, while one of her fellow pilots threatened to resign on announcement of her employment. In the face of early objections, Yvonne’s aviation career went from strength to strength, and she went on to become a captain with Dan-Air in 1972. Now in her eighties, she recalls her flying days with a real passion.
Women in aviation today
It seems the obstacles facing women these days are less policy-driven but more due to entrenched stereotypes: men are pilots and women are air stewardesses. In a British Airways poll just last year, 63% of women said they were put off a career as a professional airline pilot when they were growing up for reasons including a lack of visible role models and being told it was a man’s job.
The idea that there is a lack of female role models in aviation is a view shared by the British Air Line Pilots’ Association. Jim McAuslan, BALPA General Secretary, acknowledges a "frustration" that there are still comparatively few female pilots:
“Women make great pilots, but unfortunately only five percent of our members and British pilots are women, and that's disappointing. Our experience is that people at recruitment fairs are there because they've got a dream. It is a career that is achievable for everyone. So women should have the dream."
“We welcome initiatives from British Airways and easyJet to encourage more women to join UK airlines. However, recruiting more female pilots appears to be just one part of the battle; airlines also need to ensure they retain and support pilots throughout their careers."
“The industry and government need to do more to encourage people from less-affluent backgrounds to become pilots as well. The only criterion for determining whether to become a pilot should certainly not be gender, and not cash, but aptitude alone.”
A need for more role models
Upon closer inspection there seems to be many women who are role models; TV's Carol Vorderman is now a fully trained pilot, but perhaps a bigger issue is the lack of coverage and celebration of their achievements. We may see the landscape changing as more stories begin to emerge of female pilots.
Yvonne’s story is just one of many and despite early hurdles, she went on to enjoy a fantastic career. She is not only an inspiration to would-be female pilots, but anyone with a dream to chase; and although something might be difficult, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible.
Happy International Women’s Day!Today invites women and men to celebrate women the world over, highlight difficulties still faced and encourage discussion around gender-related topics.
We see many inspirational women celebrated today: political activists, artists, writers, and everyday women who have moved the world in some way or another. So, we thought, why not take this opportunity to celebrate just some of the great achievements by women in aviation.
Arguably the most famous of all female aviators, perhaps somewhat owing to her mysterious disappearance, Amelia Earhart’s accomplishments in her flying career are known the world over. After her father treated her to a 10-minute flight, she fell in love with flying and following this worked hard to save the $1,000 needed for lessons. Amelia bought a second-hand Kinner Airster biplane, and on 22nd October 1922, flew the Airster to an altitude of 14,000 feet (4,300 m), setting a world record for a female pilot.
As her celebrity status grew, she went on to publish books, work as an associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine and create a clothing line. In 1931, she set yet another world record of flying 18,415ft in a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro. In 1932, a 34-year-old Amelia Earhart set out on her first solo transatlantic flight and successfully landed in Ireland after 14 hours and 56 minutes. Despite her many achievements in aviation and supporting other women in the industry, she has perhaps become most famous for her final and ill-fated flight. In 1937, after a first failed attempt earlier in the year her last voice transmission was received on Howard Island in the Pacific Ocean. While there have been many theories as to what happened, the aircraft nor Amelia or her co-pilot were ever found.
After being supported and encouraged by her father to follow her passion for aviation, Amy Johnson achieved worldwide recognition after becoming the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. However, during her time she achieved many other records and feats, including becoming the first pilot to fly from London to Moscow in one day along with co-pilot Jack Humphreys. She also set other long-distance records such as setting a record time for flying from Britain to Japan, Britain to South Africa and Britain to India.
In 1940, during the Second World War, Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary to ferry new, repaired and damaged military aircraft between factories, assembly plants, and transatlantic delivery points. It was the following year while completing a ferry flight that Amy went off course during poor weather conditions and ended up ditching in the Thames Estuary, where despite attempts to save her, she died. As well as her many honours during her lifetime, she has also achieved many posthumously. Most recently, easyJet’s campaign to introduce more women into aviation has been named the ‘Amy Johnson Initiative’.
Yvonne Pope Sintes
Yvonne Pope Sintes was the first British female jet airline captain. Revealing some of her struggles in her early career in her published book, Trailblazer in Flight: Britain's First Female Jet Airline Captain,she tells of how until the 1960s, women wanting an airline career were destined to be air stewardesses. This is exactly how Yvonne began her career; after being turned down by the RAF, who said they wouldn’t train women pilots, she became a stewardess in the hope that the pilots would teach her how to fly. And indeed, one captain, who had been an instructor during the war, offered to help. Once she had attended to passengers he would tutor her.
Despite all the odds, Yvonne joined Morton Air Services in 1965 but faced criticism from her colleagues – from both men and women. Other women viewed her with suspicion and as she recalls, made comments that the cockpit wasn’t a place for women, while one of her fellow pilots threatened to resign on announcement of her employment. In the face of early objections, Yvonne’s aviation career went from strength to strength, and she went on to become a captain with Dan-Air in 1972. Now in her eighties, she still recalls her flying days with a real passion.
Royal Brunei’s first all-female crew lands in Saudi Arabia
While a first for Royal Brunei, an all-female crew is unusual but not unheard of. However, what made this flight in March 2016 special was that the plane landed in Saudi Arabia – a country where women are still prohibited from driving. Amazing, that these women can skilfully and capably land a B787, yet would be unable to drive a car out of the airport (although not technically illegal, driving is forbidden by conservative religious rules). Stories such as this capture the disparity of women’s rights across the world.
Modern day aviation
What the above stories demonstrate is that women have been pioneering in aviation almost since its inception – yet this leads us to question why only 6% of pilots in 2017 are female. We’re not quite sure why – as we know for sure that capabilities for flying are not determined by gender, age, race, financial background – or anything else other than aptitude. All that matters – or should ever matter – when it comes to aviation is skill.
A question that is likely to divide. Some may be sitting there nodding in agreement, while others are rolling their eyes. The purpose of asking this question is not to single anyone out or purposely annoy, but simply to explore the thoughts and opinions of our members. We often hear the stat that only “5% of pilots are women worldwide” – a figure reflected in British aviation. But is this a fault of the airlines, misogyny among male pilots, apathy among women to pursue it as a career, a lack of visible role models, or maybe something else entirely? It is not a question that will provide a single, or easy, answer, but in order to explore the possibilities, we spoke to a range of pilots, male and female, to get their thoughts.
Jennifer* is a First Officer and has been flying for more than 20 years.What are the reactions from passengers to a female pilot? Negative? Positive? Neutral?
Passenger reactions vary. Usually they don't even realise, or believe, that I am doing the flying. I did a landing the other day in strong crosswinds with a difficult approach, and one passenger, upon disembarking, thanked the Captain and asked me how many years it would be before I would be able to fly the jet. I had to point out that it was me who had just landed!
Do you have children? Do you think you face specific challenges based on your career?
Yes, and yes! It is generally women who still do the majority of childcare and household chores, even if they work the same hours as men. Flexible working is still a work in progress in many airlines, and pregnancy and returning from maternity leave is still not well handled, although this might not be industry-specific.
Why do you think there are so few women pilots?
I think some women often have the extra stress of organising everything for their families. Of all the female pilots I have known, I would say that the most successful in their careers have no kids, or have stay-at-home husbands or lots of help at home – those with no help or support generally end up leaving the profession. Also, women generally shy away from engineering type professions, probably partly due to poor career advice and lack of role models.
How do you feel about recent initiatives in BA and easyJet to support more women pilots entering the profession?
It is a great idea because it gives visibility to the fact that women can be pilots. It gets people talking and, hopefully, considering it as a career. There is no reason women cannot compete for an airline job on an equal basis to men.
Should more be done, by the airlines or BALPA, to support women? If so, what?
Yes! Because there are so few of us it is nigh on impossible to get information on things like maternity, flexible working, and career progression. BALPA could help by having this information from each airline, and also by starting a female pilot network; it would be useful to be able to talk to women in other airlines about what the industry is doing.
Finally, do you think it’s a boys’ club?
I think there is still a large element of the old boys’ network but it is gradually changing.
Dale is currently training to be a pilot using the modular route and is one of our nextGen members. Why do you think there are so few women pilots?
Nowadays, women have exactly the same opportunities as men within the aviation industry and wider job markets. You just have to look at the military to see this. Women are now eligible to apply and take up frontline operational roles. There have always been, and always will be roles that are more attractive to men than women and vice versa. This is not a negative thing, it is just how males and females differ naturally. For example, the vast majority of men have historically been attracted to the more hands on, physical, and technical roles. Generally speaking, women are more maternal and for that reason they choose career paths that allow them to have a stable family life and balance a successful career. The nature of becoming and then actually being a professional pilot does not always make this possible. This does not apply to every woman and it is not a stereotype, it is a scientifically proven theory and simply boils down to the fact that women and men are wired up differently.
Do you think it is a good career for women?
I think it is a fantastic career for anyone, regardless of their gender!
How do you feel about recent initiatives in BA and easyJet to support more women pilots entering the profession?
I feel that these schemes are unnecessary. They are ultimately throwing money at women on the presumption that the apparent ‘problem’ is caused by lack of access to funds, which is my opinion is not the case. It is one of the biggest barriers, however, men face exactly the same financial barriers. These schemes strike me as a knee jerk reaction to solve an apparent problem without doing research into the real reasons behind why a larger percentage of women do not see it as a viable career.
Should more be done, by the airlines or BALPA, to support women? If so, what?
I personally feel that efforts should not be specifically directed at getting more women into the industry. Women do not face any additional barriers to entering the industry than their male counterparts. In fact, at the moment it has swung the opposite way and it seems that females have the upper hand when applying for pilot positions. From speaking to female colleagues, they are actually seeing it as a negative thing, as they feel they are being offered jobs based on their gender rather than ability.
Finally, do you think it’s a boys’ club?
No, I think that historically it was a bit of a boys’ club or at least perceived by those outside the profession as being so, however, it has not been that way for some time now.
Sally is a Captain who has been flying for 27 years and is married to a fellow pilot.What made you want to become a pilot?
I started my career as a stewardess and then learnt to fly and got a private pilot’s licence and BA started recruiting. I thought “why am I a stewardess when I could be a pilot!”, and so I left BA and went to get my licence.
What reactions do you get from passengers and other pilots to having a female pilot? Negative? Positive? Neutral?
Passenger reactions still surprise me. They are generally positive these days but often they are surprised to have a female Captain. Other pilots are no longer surprised and there are now so many female pilots around compared to when I started.
Why do you think there are so few women?
I am not sure why there are so few female pilots. Perhaps girls still don’t think of it as a career; girls seem far more girly these days and so perhaps it doesn’t interest them.
Captain MIKE DAVIDSON MA (Hons)
SWiMS Talk 2019
Hello again dear ladies on this gloriously sunny weekend when we spring back into longer hours of daylight and relish the idea of getting home to brighter evenings and the potential of fun after work. A cheeky delight that maybe brings back memories of going out to play after school when you were young. Oh those memories of growing up, to some of us a rather distant memory but also a memory of being at home with our parents. Here we stop and think back to our origins. What made us who we are? Well one thing is certain we wouldn’t be here without our mothers and their physical and emotional sacrifices to bring us into the world. Today is Mother’s Day. Indeed another commercial platform to buy things but also an essential moment to stop and think of our mothers and that is what this little blog is all about; Maxfax ladies’ mums.
Some may assume that there is a natural compatibility between mother and daughter. An innate genetic compatibility that comes from the 50% of us acquired from our mother chromosomally. This is not at all so. Like the huge diversity in nature, ethnicity and character that exists between the members of our society, there is also this diversity in the journeys that brought us here. So, I give examples below of how that diversity has influenced each of us.
What does every mother wish for her in new born child? She wishes that it will be healthy, happy and safe through its life. Raising a daughter comes with additional worries and an innate desire that she will be respected and valued in her life. How does one teach that?
Although certain cultures are more associated with traditional gender roles, the generation of our parents saw a change in the way women wanted their own children to live life. Suddenly girls started to be raised with a newly-found sense of self-belief that they have as much right as their male siblings and peers to live a full life including having a career as they choose. This emancipation is testament to visionary and courageous parents who stepped outside of the mould they were raised in and decided that the next generation will not be the same as the last. Their daughters would be free. Let me take you on a little journey reminiscing together about some of our wonderful mothers.
There is nothing a mother wants more than to raise a daughter who can defend herself and survive fearlessly in this world. The first vignette was fuelled by a Punjabi motto “Fight Fire with Fire!” :-
“As a child I was bullied very badly for wearing glasses and I used to get beaten up and have my glasses broken. After the traditional methods of tackling school bullying failed, my mum enrolled me into karate. One day I fought back against the lead bully and I was never bullied again in that school.”
The same amazing mother taught this:
“As a female it is crucial to be independent and able to stand on your own two feet”.
Another story from Galicia describes two generations of mother devoted to raising strong daughters able to stand up for their rights and yet also able to understand others.
“My mother made sure that I learned multiculturality at a time when there was no diversity where I came from….she was extremely modern and so was my amazing grandmother Obdulia Otero who refused to go to Church in Franco’s Catholic Spain after she was ordered in confession that it was her duty to bear more children. She left the confession booth, told him it was none of his business what she did and never went back to church unless she wanted to”.
In Galicia there stands an inspiring statue of Maria Pita. A woman who in the 16th Century inspired the men of her city to stand with her and conquer the invaders. Her words as she stood on the city walls with her dead husband behind her and the invaders before her were “Quen Tena Honra, que me siga” meaning “Whoever has honour, follow me!!”. In her dress and brazening a sword she and the women and men of the city triumphed and her statue stands proudly in the heart of the city inspiring all women to be strong. It makes me feel so proud that we have one of these incredible Galician women amongst us.
Quen Tena Honra, que me siga – Maria Pita (Galicia)
Then there is the mother who knows exactly what her daughter will become…whether that daughter knows that yet or not. These are the mother leaders who have wisdom and direction at the heart of their souls. Such a fabulous story comes from one of our ladies from Hungary:
“I am a Maxillofacial Surgeon. Without my mum I would never be the same person that I am today. It was mainly her idea that I should become a doctor. She always told me that I would like to do this job and actually she was right. The first time I applied to university I did not get in. I almost gave up and studied chemical engineering and I lost the will to reapply again for medicine. My mother had other plans though and filled out the applications herself leaving me no choice but to resit the exams again and this time I passed. It was because of her belief in me that I am a doctor today!”. This amazing mother is still working in a high-powered job at the age of 58. What an inspiring work ethic and yet also a mum who loves fun.
One can truly say that some mums really are the number one fan of their daughters even when what we do could not be further away from their own life experiences. These inspiring stories tells such a tale of supporting daughters in chasing dreams that as mothers they cannot imagine. It must have been like watching a child take off in a paraglider and cheering them on with fear of the unknown in their hearts:
“My mum is in PR and anything medical makes her feel unwell; but it’s from her that I learnt most of my communication skills. I was never allowed to not try hard, I could fail but not trying or not putting the effort in was not allowed. Now she is my biggest cheerleader and the person I rely on the most for a brutally honest opinion. She’s now 63 and ‘only’ working 50 hours a week. I have a lot to live up to”.
“I haven’t exactly followed the same path as my mother, and we have very different interests. But even if she may not understand some things I do or why I do them she is always immensely proud and is my biggest cheerleader! Throughout she has given me an unshakeable self-belief and she is the first person I want to talk to when I’ve done something that I’m proud of. Couldn’t imagine a world without her!”
“I’m sure there is a generation of women like my Mum who are full-time mums (either through choice or lack of opportunity in their time) who sacrificed or dedicated their life to raising children so our generation could have the life we lead with our freedom, careers/ financial independence and not just reliant on men. My mother always supported every crazy new pursuit I wanted to do (even when it was risky or when she didn’t approve). In doing so she instilled in me a confidence to try anything”
And then some mothers make sacrifices to their own careers to be a pillar to their daughters’ futures:
“My mom decided to quit her job to be closer to me during my studies. Every time I succeed in something should it be university, or karate exams, specialty exams or anything really important I would always call her and say” You know it’s you who made this happen. It’s always you”.
Another quality demonstrated is the sheer resilience of some of our mothers. When we feel buried in those endless piles of work stop for a second and remember what our mothers had to juggle.
“My mother worked fulltime as a teacher and my father worked away from home for long periods. My nearest grandparents were a thousand miles away and the others further. My mother seemed to take everything in her stride. Home was run with a meticulous rhythm and everything had to be done properly from hobbies to schoolwork. Reports had to be excellent and the word bored was forbidden. My mother ruled the house with a balance of fire and love which just worked and her work ethic was contagious. My drive came from her ambition for me to be the best I could be”.
One thing that mothers do not forget is the sheer hard work of raising children. We forget what hard work we must have been when we were young and only really realise the endeavours of our parents later in life. To have a mother who you can reach out to is priceless. This story is so heartwarming:
“My mum was a cashier in former life. When I was pregnant and a medical student she asked how I would manage. It wouldn’t be easy. Her thoughts were completely for me. She took the washing and the ironing away each week and sometimes the baby! She was very practically minded. Although she is no longer with us, she is always in my heart and thoughts”.
And then there is doctor and leader as a mother. The standard was set at birth and the result – success!
“My wonderful mum who was a paediatrician in the states and became a GP when she came to the UK just before I was born. She’s also a ridiculously talented artist and managed to get a first-class MA in literature whilst still working full time and being part of the local ethics committee. A HUGE person to live up to! From year dot she has encouraged me in all aspects of my life not just academic. She even dictate the whole of ward booth, plastic surgery secrets and Langdon so I could listen and revise during my daily commute. I still say she was the reason I passed FRCS.”
The Life of the Party
But not all mums are the same and some are just incredibly good fun and remind us that life is never predictable. In our regimented institutionalised life this in itself can be such a reminder to us all to not forget the other crucial parts of life:
“I think I am like Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous. As a teenager I did what I wanted, there was no bedtime, mum used to come home from a night out before the days of internet dating with takeaways for us and the only dilemma was 1: eat it because it tastes better just cooked or 2: save it for tomorrow and heat it up? Today my mum is still working at the age of 75 and enjoys being relatively wealthy as a result. She is fun and lives life to the full”.
Like all wonderful things in this life an end comes to us all. Some of you shared the enduring love that you have for your beloved mothers. This last part is to remember the mothers who although not bodily here to stand with us live on through our success and futures. Thankyou x.
“Even after her stroke my mum could still do mental maths. ….although she is no longer with us, she is always in my heart and thoughts”.
“Solo se mira atras para coger impulso” – “Only look back to hard times to propel yourself forwards” Pilar Rico.
Today we say thankyou to all our wonderful, diverse, and unique mothers for the life they gave to us and the futures we now enjoy. I finish my blog feeling so very privileged that you shared these stories with me. Some have made me smile, and some cry. What an honour it has been to write this for you.
Happy Mothers’ Day x.
President and Co-founder of SWiMS
Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon
The Royal Cornwall Hospital
Hello again dear ladies and abundant apologies for the tardiness of this blog. I truly hope that 2019 is blossoming into an exciting year for you. For some of you I know it has not been an easy start but hope that being part of SWiMS has bolstered you and helped you in these times. The SWiMS family is for the rainy days and the sunny ones. As I sit here typing away in a hotel lounge with some bizarre music playing in the background, I notice spring daring to peep its head out beyond the windows and amidst the end of Storm Freya. I contemplate the metaphorical significance of this time of year. The burgeoning potential of early spring with leaves yet to show and flowers blooming in some improbable hope of finding a bee at this time of year. I do wonder - are we all a little like those trees outside? Each of us trying to show our hidden potential but wary of the gusts of wind that may blow us over as we try to be our best, or the rains that may damage our blossom?....I say we need to be like those trees outside and believe that we can exist and be our amazing selves whatever the challenge that lies ahead of us because our gifts were born with us and like the trees have a long time to persist and make this world a beautiful place.
As 2019 has begun and progressed so has SWiMS with new members and the exciting conference programme now formalised and full of amazing speakers to inspire us all. I do hope that you will be joining us on the 18-19th May because I know it is going to be a lovely conference. This year has also seen the start of our new website www.swims.org.uk courtesy of our amazing webmaster Rod Beale (Vicky Beale’s talented brother) who made all of our ideas come to life in a website that makes me smile every time I go to it. Every bit of that site tells of our journey from the idea of SWiMS to the amazing family it has now become. Each and every one of you has contributed to it and should all feel proud of it. What SWiMS will become will be what you put into it. It exists for you. Your own place to just be you.
Our forum has been a flurry of wonderful discussions and debates and the sharing of fascinating articles that really make one think. New Year’s day did not fail to surprise in this context with the interview in the Economist with the contentious economist and anthropologist David Graeber. His quote “there is an almost perfect inverse relation between how much your work directly benefits others, and remuneration.” Surely this begs the question about what the remuneration of healthcare should be. We have seen the battles of junior doctors in the NHS over hours and pay at work and the pension debacle amongst senior consultants forcing doctors into early retirement and the private sector, leaving younger consultants with the weight of responsibility on their shoulders in an environment that is quick to blame and slow to praise. Somewhere one questions whether things need to stop and people ask what is the reason why we became doctors and how we lost control of our beautiful profession? That we should be valued is universally acknowledged and pay should mirror our skills and the economic growth of the nation but when doctors start to look at income as the main measure of their worth one asks where the sense of injustice has stemmed from and how such a rift could have occurred between the profession and our government. Never before have doctors felt so uncertain about their ability to treat their patients as well as they would like to and the future of the health service. Each of us asks the question how do we know we are valued? The answer comes from a sense of self-worth and the ability to stand up and tell others who we are and what we are and be acknowledged; but does a bit of imposter syndrome within each of us stop us from doing that? Quoting the poet Aure Lourde who told people to not be afraid to tell their story; she said, “The transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation”. If we can tell people we believe in ourselves they will believe us. The way the world responds to us is as much a product of how we portray ourselves in that world. So go out there ladies and tell people of all your amazing work and achievement. Your passion will drive others. Look at the fabulous article on Helen Witherow and her treatment of Martin Bell. Maxillofacial Surgery is an incredible specialty and we should proudly proclaim it!!
With a flurry of major newspapers and websites (the Guardian, The Telegraph, the NIHR and the news) publishing the stories of gender discrimination against female surgeons and ethnic minorities, January closed with a pertinent reminder to all of us of how important it is for us to take care of ourselves and reach out to supportive colleagues for resilience and advice. How do we address such discrimination when it affects us? The answer is “Be Prepared”. The tendency when one feels offended or humiliated is to dig one’s heels in and believe that by working harder and being even better than our counterparts that we can make it all go away. The result is taking on more than is possible to do. We become the yes group and somewhere we forget that we are not superhumans and that this pace of life will eventually break us. Remember, how do you eat an elephant…..? One thing is clear however ladies - It is NEVER appropriate to be publicly humiliated for being a woman and some of the posts this year remind us that this still goes on and needs to stop. One of the reasons that we have invited Dr Claudia Paolini to the conference as Chairwoman of the HCSA is to teach you just that. How to face challenge head on. It promises to be an inspiring talk.
Even if injustice is not fuelling us, within each of us is the innate desire to excel at what we do. Maxillofacial surgery in all its diversity presents us with a wonderful platform to test that excellence and the question remains “how do you become the best that you can be?”. This question was tackled admirably by Santibanes et al in his reflection in the Annals of the College of Surgeons in the US. The following list was advised to frame the route to excellence:
If such a frame is applied to your working lives and taught to those who will succeed you a sense of value can be truly achieved. With the challenges of bed shortages, funding shortages and hospital politics often standing as distractions, keeping this list on the wall by your desk and reading it will remind you that at work we are maxillofacial surgeons first and everything peripheral to that second but amidst it all we must never neglect our loved ones. What we do is an absolute gift and nothing should stop us from loving it. I was reminded in January of the astounding power that our passion for OMFS has when I received feedback from the speed mentoring that I gave at the UCL careers day. Hearing that students who previously knew nothing about our specialty wanted to pursue it as a career now was just what each of us wants to hear! With such enthusiasm in my heart I reflected on how my own mentor in my early years as a consultant empowered me and decided to take this one step further and get qualified in mentoring to become a trust mentor and support colleagues at work. The ability to help others is another way of gaining a sense of value and worth and the benefit is universal – yes not a role that is rewarded financially but the remuneration is something far greater. When we started SWiMS this was part of the vision to use mentoring as a way of supporting each other and attracting others to maxillofacial surgery as a career. Could this be an avenue for you to pursue too? Come and listen to Dr Ann Harvey at our conference who will tell you how to do that. I do love her story.
So from the excellence of being a surgeon I move to the final part of this blog which is the awareness of the midlife unravelling that we are all apparently destined to reach according to Brene Brown. This is the wonder of reaching the point in your life when you become you - love these words ladies!:
“I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing- these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen”.
With these empowering words and the reflections of our ongoing strength as a group of Maxillofacial surgeons I ask you all to support our forthcoming conference and benefit from the spirit of community and friendship. We are a force to behold and belong to the best specialty in the world. Be proud of what you are, you are all unique and amazing.
President and Co-founder of SWiMS
Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon
The Royal Cornwall Hospital
I remember the exact moment I decided to pursue a career as a cleft surgeon: I was 21, studying medicine at Oxford University and assisting in the theatre of an eminent cleft surgeon. As I observed him meticulously restore the facial anatomy of a baby born with a cleft lip, I contended with the complex aesthetic, functional and psychological consequences of re-establishing facial integrity and knew that this was the varied impact I wished to achieve in my career. Not long afterwards, I undertook my elective placement in South America with a charity mission specialising in cleft lip and palate. I felt a tangible energy and unified sense of purpose from the nationally-diverse, multidisciplinary team that would see me participating in such missions on an annual basis throughout my training. With each mission, my experiences remained permanently imprinted by the humbling resilience of patients and by the bonds that transform strangers into lifelong colleagues.
As a surgical trainee, I had to decide which specialty to pursue in order to train in cleft surgery. After an inspiring post in oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMFS), I determined that OMFS was the route for me given its breadth of training focussed on the face. I then became enrolled in the first cohort of the Dental Programme for Medical Graduates at King’s College London, during which I gained a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between intraoral and extraoral pathology. I subsequently gained a place on the Pan Thames higher specialist OMFS training scheme and was actively encouraged to cultivate my academic aspirations. After being mentored by another cleft surgeon who taught me to question seemingly established cleft surgical practices, I started a clinical PhD under his supervision midway through higher surgical training. This research was generously supported by both the RCS Surgical Research Fellowship and the RCS Dental Research fellowship – and logistically – by my Training Programme Director when I proceeded to have three daughters in the space of four years!
The significant challenges I have faced in combining motherhood, surgery and academia have developed my resilience and resourcefulness over the years Through shared experiences, I have benefitted immensely from the supportive networks of Women in Surgery (WinS) and the Society for Women in Maxillofacial Surgery (SWiMS). Only now as I write up my PhD thesis as a senior trainee am I able to appreciate fully that optimal work–life balance is a work in progress. Moreover, I have learned that surgical training need not be a direct journey, but one that you can adapt to your personal and professional goals – whilst still maintaining your destination.
Trainee Representative of SWiMS
ST in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
East of England Deanery
To celebrate International Womens Day on 8th March 2019 SWiMS is giving away a £200 Bursary towards a course or conference of the winner's choosing.
All members of SWiMS who attend the conference on 18th May 2019 will be automatically entered into the Bursary Prize Drawer. The winner will be announced at the conference dinner on Saturday 18th May 2019.
If you aren't yet a member and would like to join, sign up using our Membership Form.
It is with great excitement that we can confirm the details for the 1st Society of Women in Maxillofacial Surgery Conference, which will be held at the beautiful Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel and Spa on the 18th and 19th May 2019.
Since our inauguration in September 2018 our Society has seen a diverse range of OMFS ladies joining us and sharing in our vision to support each other and together contribute to the future of our specialty and women in surgery in the UK.
The theme of our conference, Get the Balance Right originates from the many hundreds of conversations we have shared reflecting together on the amazing strengths and challenges of becoming and thriving as a maxillofacial surgeon.
We are delighted to have an exciting panel of presenters who will share their own wisdom of getting the balance in work and life right and achieving great heights as a result. Alongside the presentations there will be opportunity to network, make new friends and have fun. It promises to be an exciting, inspiring and relaxing weekend and one not to miss.
Please see our conferences page for more details.
As we close the door on 2018, our inaugural year, we look back to the wonder of an idea coming to life and the bright future that lies ahead of it. Like all new adventures there are those who will join out of curiosity, those who join out of necessity and those who later follow. That is how we have begun. On this week, when the excesses of Christmas may have generated a desire for new avenues; maybe a change in diet, a change in hobbies or even a change in appearance, I look back to a month which saw some of our members ask the question, “What shall I do next?”. A career is a journey of a lifetime and evolves as we grow. At the start, we aspire to learn new skills; acquire a new identity whilst retaining our own sense of self and then jump through the essential hoops and over the unexpected hurdles to reach the next finish line. Years pass by; life tries to run in parallel; relationships are started, some working, some not, both at home and at work; meanwhile, the study or office fills with books, journals, papers and the floor becomes a template for the things to do and the projects maybe for later. What defines which pieces of paper we choose to pick? Is it the way we feel? Is it maybe the way our past experiences have made us feel? Is it driven by what we want to become or maybe fuelled by a new courage as a woman aspiring to be more than we previously believed we could be. Whichever it is, the challenge is the conversion of the new idea into a reality. Here the forum proved its worth with other SwiMS friends coming out with its own wisdom and experience as well as ideas. I hope that we will soon hear of the new journeys that some of you will take from this discussion. To coin Bob Hoskin’s line (maybe not with the accent)....”It’s good to talk”.....and more importantly talk to those who will listen.
One comment made me think long and hard. How do we quantify our value in the institution where we work? From our conception as surgeons, we are psychologically driven to aim for leadership roles to steer the departmental vision that grows around us. I remember one of my mentors once telling me “you can try as hard as you like to avoid politics but the truth is that if you don’t get involved with it, it will involve you". A sobering thought indeed! I sit often and ponder where in the nearly twenty years of my training I was taught the art of political diplomacy in shark-infested waters. This year has seen Twitter, LinkedIn, shared learning events and published articles standing like a choir harmonically projecting the new mantra “being a good surgeon is no longer enough"......enough for what or for whom? Are we expected to be omnipotent multifarious super-humans, faultless of hand, character and transferable skills? God-like people, seamlessly levitating between the intellectual and physical art of surgery; the political dynamics of team leadership and communal harmony; inspirational in our teaching, gifted and omnipresent in mentorship, balanced in character and harmonious in life for the 30 something years of consultant life? Yes, get your gilded bustiers out ladies – the day of She Ra has arrived!! Add to that motherhood and the physical burdens of running a home and raising a family and I wonder where the human factors element is integrated into such a model of perfection.
Stepping down from the assumed pedestal for a second, one can see that such a vision is part of a nationwide attempt to change a culture within medicine. Rightly, it is no longer acceptable for a surgeon to throw a tantrum (or worse) in theatre; demand unyielding subordination from the teams around them or engender a culture of bullying to instil awe and a sense of power or just avoid people approaching them. Gosh I bet each of us can think of one trainer in our past who fits into that image! A tragedy, indeed. The balance however is how to ensure that we remain resilient, valued and respected in the team and the key to that is to value and respect everyone around us. All humans are equal even if their level of responsibility may differ. What we each give out we receive in equal measure. Here the mantra holds good and strong. The RCSed campaign #letsremoveit embodies all that we can each do to make such a change happen. Like with all great new ideas, there is a course for this and in my opinion, a great one to ascribe to.
The other side to the expectation of the wider surgical persona does worry me however. With burnout, suicide and mental health issues escalating within the medical professional community nationally, the added pressure of being more than just human begs for a safe backup for each and every one of us. A safe space. This is where mentoring is essential. But how to access it? Should each of us be mentors to others and how can we train to be the best possible mentor? Well one place is right here in the SWIMS forum that is Chatham House Rule protected. Another is through your own trust coaching and mentoring programme. If this is not enough, approaching your trust for access to a professional leadership coach is often possible. At a more advanced level, programmes such as the Nye Bevan or Kings Fund leadership programmes can provide you with closer insight into your strengths and weaknesses and how best to apply them to be better leaders. Many of us already play mentoring roles for our junior colleagues either face to face, or through the use of digital technology when time is scarce. What matters is that there is someone out there for each of us to reach out to and the hope is that we too can share that goodwill with others.
Well, with the goodwill of Christmas still sparkling around us, I jump now to a huge round of applause for the wonder that is the women in maxillofacial surgery and your talents at making the world around you more beautiful. We have seen stunning homemade wreaths, Christmas trees decorated to perfection scaling great heights to get there, tempting trifles, a wedding cake and many many team smiles and hugs for those of us who spent Christmas in scrubs. I dedicate this month’s collage to our unquenchable love of life and people. Whilst celebration and applause is the theme, I also give a standing ovation to our two newly-elected BAOMS council members Kanwalraj Moar and Ann Begley who I know will do an incredible job whilst also giving a huge “Thankyou” for all her hard work to Kathy Fan whose term of office is coming to an end. At a trainee level, Cleft surgery has seen a surge in maxillofacial trainee appointments this month with one being our own Marnie Fullerton. With such effervescent optimism on this New Year’s Eve, may I join the SWiMS council in wishing you all a truly happy, healthy and optimistic 2019. A wonderful New Year to BELIEVE, SUCCEED and Get the Balance Right.
Don’t forget to book your places at the SWiMS conference on 18/19th May 2019!
Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon
The Royal Cornwall Hospital
A warm “hello to each of you”, as I sit typing by an open fire. Winter is here and as the long nights draw in, so should we huddle closer and smile at the warmth of the last month of SWiMS activity. A flurry of new members has joined and our family grows, empowering each of us in the knowledge that we truly are not alone. As I write of the SWiMS ‘family’ I ponder what the word FAMILY means to each of us. To me it is small. My ‘children’ are all embellished in fur or feathers but sadly there is no child. How many female surgeons in OMFS have managed to break the societal mould of ‘career woman’ and ascend without challenge to the pinnacle as surgeon and mother if that was their dream? Sadly there are not enough, although the statistics are so much better today. The scandal of women being told ”don’t bother going for higher training if you’re getting married” and the threats of job loss and career compromise are enough to inspire this month’s blog highlighting our amazing mothers in OMFS and supporting the future of women in OMFS and their freedom to choose life and career as they want to live it.
Reading Professor Claire Hopkins’ article this month on Confronting Unconscious Bias, I was staggered at the parallels in her writing to the experiences voiced by our own society members. Hearing her say that her own son told her “Mummy you are a girl so you must be a nurse” was an identical moment to the night I was babysitting my neighbour’s children and her 3 year old son informed me that there was no way I could be a doctor because I was a woman. For once I was truly speechless! Where on Earth would a 3 year old boy learn that from I ask? And thus out of a hearty SWiMS debate emerged the answer; the source was not some hidden academic conspiracy, nor a directed parental plan to squeeze their little boys and girls into outdated stereotypical roles, but instead from a peculiar pink pig with curiously syndromic facies. We had been trumped by Peppa Pig and the gender role biases in the tales of this influential Sus Domesticus and family who had subtly integrated their way of life into the minds of our children. But hark! What is this I read? An article explaining how Peppa Pig discriminates against men making them look foolish. But daddy Pig has been to university and mummy pig stays home to raise the little piglets – not much scope to imagine mummy as a surgeon and leader is there? It is not the blatant; it is the subtle that defines society’s impressions of gender role from the formative years. The jury still finds Peppa Pig guilty in the case of SWiMS vs Peppa-induced Unconscious Bias Against Women in Society .
Looking at the more factual and less-speculative, the excellent article by Dossa et al in the British Journal of surgery this month looks closely at the evidence on gender biases in surgery for women. It finds clear evidence that the equity that we seek is far from here yet with women being encouraged to not pursue surgical careers as early as medical school; being more harshly scrutinised than their male counterparts in their working lives; being underrepresented on committees and research panels. She talks of ‘the motherhood penalty’ where women are actively discriminated against at all levels simply for being women who might produce children and then there is the issue of the gender pay gap. Can we say that we have made great leaps towards our goal yet? I would say not enough. To quote Freischlag, “Osmosis is not enough – we need active transport”.
We debated this month in SMiMS how people might perceive us as women. Words like “emotional”, “stressed”, “intense” are used to describe a woman who challenges the status quo at work; and yet for a male colleague exhibiting the same approach the adjectives change to “dynamic”; “inspired” and “innovative”. The language that we speak and hear affects the way women are perceived and perceive themselves. The agreed approach is to not accept this anymore. We must apply that “Active transport” and push the language of devaluing women in work far away. If we all stand up and say “no more” then it will be so.
We know that women are fabulous; the statistics show it. Whilst rehydrating after another epic cycle ride, our resident superwoman Jen Graystone shared an article from Casquette magazine. In it consultants McKinsey found the companies with the most women on their boards, regardless of sector, consistently and significantly outperformed those with no female representation....Results were 56% higher in companies with women on the board than without it. So I ask why this is not mirrored in surgery. Why are our conference and research panels lacking in female representation when our contribution is substantial? Helgesen has found that women get greater satisfaction from achieving goals they set for themselves, rather than beating others. The reality is the opposite for men. Is this it? Do some men in surgery find women a threat or as competition? Surely a collaborative approach with the differing attributes of both men and women is the best formula. This is what we should be aiming for, but to start we need to believe in ourselves and dare to stand up for what we know to be right. We must pedal harder towards our goal of equity and like Jen Graystone does, keep our eyes on the yellow jersey!
I stand in awe and admiration of those of you who are mothers. I can see that still, the perceived simple decision to have a family is not a straightforward one, and for many of you there have been challenges both at home and at work. Having overcome the often huge milestone of fertility for many couples, I hear a sense of guilt that tears women apart between the innate desire to spend time with a new baby and the desire to not fall behind or be treated as less-committed on the career front. As women, we seem to want to be everything to everyone around us but something has to give. The time of bearing children is short and yet the length of our career is long. Options that have been discussed include Less than full time working (LTFT) or job sharing with other women; the latter becoming a greater reality as the number of women in surgery rises (we hope). Careful planning of maternity leave seems to be a fine art. As one person said, breast feeding and oncall do not mix! Deciding how to return to work is as much an art as juggling motherhood and a career. The key ladies, is to be kind to yourselves and to listen to what you feel in your hearts is right for you. Returning to a job as physical and intense as surgery after a year off can be, I imagine, daunting, and worse still with sleepless nights at home and a whirlwind of hormones flowing through you; having a mentor or friend to support you though the transition is a great idea. Having a mentor full-stop is a great idea. Another suggestion that might be a way of shortening your time away is shared parental leave. Share the burden with your partner/ husband if their work allows it.......oh goodness hang on here! What am I saying? Am I assuming that a man’s role as a parent is less than that of a mother? Maybe for some it is but there still needs to be an option for all.
With such force of “active transport” empowering us, it is with huge excitement that the council of SWiMS and I invite you all to the forthcoming SwiMS 2019 conference entitled “Getting the Balance Right”. The conference will be held on the 18th-19th May 2019 at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel. It will be a conference for trainees and fully-fledged consultants alike because the need for resilience spans across the whole of our careers. It will provide a wonderful opportunity to meet with colleagues new and old as well as meet the new generation of amazing women in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery. The full programme will be announced closer to the date but why not get booking that study leave now whilst we are talking about it? Bristol is great city for the whole family and the location is close to the city centre with fun for mums, dads and children alike. Why not make it a little mini break for the whole family? If space and peace or escape from the noise of life is what you need then the venue has a wonderful spa to let the stresses of everyday life bubble away. You choose.
So it is with this ebullience that I close this month’s blog and stand with my glass raised to the women of OMFS who at every level are truly astounding. Don’t let the winter bed crisis or any other mountain grind you down; be kind to yourselves and to use the phrase by Lisa Nichols, “Be a She-ro and never forget that you are a woman” .
Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon
The Royal Cornwall Hospital
*A big thankyou to Nabeela Ahmed, Lynne Fryer, Catherine Moss, Jen Graystone, Marnie Fullerton, Daljit Dhariwal, Isabelle Berg, Kathy Fan, Ambika Chadha and Stephanie Milne for the gorgeous photos showing them getting the balance of life right x
Hello ladies! Together we leap forwards into the passionate colours of autumn and reflect on the heat of an extraordinary summer behind us. Another growth-spurt of SWiMS has occurred and an impressive number of new members have joined with a wonderful camaraderie developing on the WhatsApp page. Being somewhat culinarily-inspired by the prolific productivity of my chickens, I ask, “Why have one lonely slice of a cake when a whole cake is so much more inviting?” Empowered with new thoughts and hunger for recognition and progression, we decided to meet up at this year’s RCS Women in Surgery (WINS) Meeting in London, aptly entitled “Press for Success”. Arriving at the magnificent Art-Deco Masterpiece that is the Royal Institute of British Architects, I looked up at the Mycenean-esq entrance and palpated the power of its design; although having googled the institute in the taxi on the way there, I was struck by the societal dichotomy of women in leadership in a man’s world. Indeed an irony as the issues that we face as female surgeons seem to be mirrored in architecture with only two female presidents in their over 200-year history. Echoes of unconscious bias and ethnic discrimination ring loud in the press and I wonder whether it is the whole of society that is painfully evolving at the moment as we peer out of the murky windows of our own hallowed medical professional institution of similar age and grandeur. What I have perceived, is that surrounding our desire for equanimity amidst change in the professional world, is a foot-dragging, toe-kicking, hands-in-pocket societal strop rather than an ebullient unified bounce forwards into a new era. The antagonistic mentality of “You’re either with us or against us” needs to be stamped out.
With such thoughts in my mind, I entered the great RIBA building to find a large and impressive group of female surgeons of every generation from the retired to the aspiring. How wonderful! I was going to suggest calling such a group “a Pride” until I realised that a group of cougars is called the same (!)….. moving quickly on. Having appeased my almost-diabetic magnetism to the cakes in the middle of the room, I started mingling with chocolate as my fuel; and the joy of being surrounded by so many fellow female surgeons as my inspiration. My tribal subconscious instantly drew me to the impressive huddle of maxillofacial surgeons in the room, but what delighted us equally as a group was the presence of so many energised junior colleagues looking for role models and shared enthusiasm on the long road to consultant. I met one retired general surgeon who told me that she never really wanted to be involved with WINS when she was working but was pushed to attend by friends and was surprised how much good it does and actually how wrong she had been to be suspicious of it. I ponder whether that is how people perceive SWiMS from the outside. Do those who look over the proverbial fence see us as battalions forming ready for a fight? Oh how wrong they are! Is to support, grow and thrive not an asset to the future of our profession?......rhetorical questioning but true I hope you’ll agree.
But do women in OMFS truly believe in their potential? By observation, I have always found women to be almost chromosomally prone to self-flagellation. Is this a part of the culture we have grown in; a reflection of how homes may have been as they were driven by stereotypical parental roles; or a psychological consequence of years of conditioning in the programmed closed-shop environment of medical and surgical training in a historically man’s world? I suspect that the answer is different for each of us but one thing that has echoed loudly through our discussions and the WINS meeting is that women instinctively underestimate themselves. One great phrase that was said was, “let the world underestimate me and let me surprise them”. Oh yes! This is what we need to tell ourselves every day and each new day will be a surprise to not only others but also ourselves. Quick, print it out and stick it by your desk. Surely self-belief influences perception. If unconscious bias truly exists, surely we can manipulate it by our own pheromones; to exude positivity and self-belief, is to convince others to look again and this time in earnest. Now there indeed is a thought next time you look in the mirror!
October has seen us debate the differences between Equality and Equity in the context of being female surgeons. If equality was enacted at every level then by default as 50% of the population, give or take, are women, one might say that in an equal world 50% of surgeons should be women. This of course is nonsense because many factors might influence women in their choice of career pathway and positively discriminating numbers on the basis of gender is madness. That we should all experience equality in opportunity is however imperative, because that constitutes true societal and professional justice. Now there we agree that work is needed. It is sadly not uncommon to hear of cases of discrimination in training; sexual innuendos, unequal expectations and judgement and male-favoured opportunity-giving in our specialty. Thankfully this is gradually decreasing but that it exists at all gives cause for concern. It is equity that we seek; a true level plain for men and women to stand on where opportunity lies equally in the face of merit and were merit was gained in a culture of true egalitarian spirit. Surely it is time that society stopped misinterpreting the female trainee or consultant and asking her for “a bed pan please nurse”. Would male consultants like it if a pair of wellington boots and a spade were handed to them outside the hospital?! 18th century stereotypes are getting tedious. Now is the time for a spark of change. Before this starts to sound like a reactionary rant, let me reassure you that things are getting better and that a collection of well-timed gentle positive nudges in the right direction are needed rather than a Guy Fawkes style conspiracy with gun-powder next week! Use the inspiration of the first female professor of surgery Averil Mansfield who excelled through her sheer love of being a surgeon and without being in her words “a queen bee". The key, ladies is to be kind to yourselves and others; look out for the colleague who needs support and respond to inappropriate behaviour in a clear and considered fashion. Above all, don’t forget, you have SWiMS and the brains of many behind you. Reach out and talk. Be strong and fabulous because the future is You, the future is with SWiMS.
Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon
The Royal Cornwall Hospital
Welcome! It is Women in Medicine Month and the inaugural month of the Society of Women in Maxillofacial Surgery in the UK. How appropriate I think, yet as I sit here, I also think this is madness! It is the 21st century and 100 years on from the suffragette movement yet as women we still feel in the professional world that we are a minority group and for many, treated differently.
As an oocyte we had a 50/50 chance of being male or female yet the odds of opportunity shifted as we entered the world as females. Are you thinking what I am? News headlines today talk of widespread unequal pay and this is mirrored across every industry from film, to art to medicine; there is worldwide outcry of sexual harassment and manipulation of women in their attempts to make progress in their careers; and today the new heads of the GMC and royal colleges have been commissioned to look into this more and “make it all go away”. But rather than get sucked into the furore of such passion, it seems far better to join as a group and breathe!
This is where SWiMS began, from a position of shared understanding; discussion of different experiences and perspectives; shared learning from the wisdom we have each gleaned through our diverse yet related walks of life and its voluminous publications.
During the long nights of skyping and talking to create this society, one thing struck me, how incredibly different Kanwalraj Moar, Vicky Beale, Ambika Chadha, Jen Graystone, and I are. I recall a day when Kanwal and I were talking to a male plastic surgeon with whom we were both working. His observation was that Kanwal and I are like twins; identical. How wrong he was yet on the outside that is what he saw. Is that how people see women in our specialty? Are we all just bundled into one title of “women surgeons”? Do we behave in such a way that leads people to such a conclusion? That group of people with the same characteristics and potential. Calling for the Myers-Briggs banners!! –ENTJ, INTJ, INJF …..introvert extrovert; man, woman, transgender; Caucasian, Asian, African, mixed, etc etc.
The medical profession is a curious, almost sect-like institution; each of us partly cloned through our training to talk the talk and walk the walk of a clinician. We all write histories in the same way, take the same dance of history taking; afraid to somehow step out the routine and be questioned. In such a culture, establishing a society where free speech is the most essential foundation does pose some challenge. But this is what SWiMS was set up to achieve.
As a self-declared technophobe, the solution to this presented a vertical learning curve to me- Tweeting, WhatsApping, Blogging, Linkedin posting oh and so much more! AAAGH! And therein enter the fabulous Kanwal, Vicky and Ambika. As if by magic, we were set up and ready to go and the vision became a reality. What a reality it has become! In one month we have become a many-messages-a-day group with thoughts ideas experiences and solutions flying past our eyes as an elixir to ease the challenges of everyday life in the health system and surgical training.
We have debated hefty topics such as unconscious bias, the halo effect, Imposter syndrome, leadership styles, the challenges of modern-day training, pay discrepancies and oh so much more.
For the few who may doubt that SWiMS has a purpose I hope now that the first months have shown you what work is yet to be done and how a collaborative approach with support will make that more likely.
On September 18th amidst the wonderful setting of the EACMFS congress in beautiful Munich we held our very first AGM.
We were not sure whether anyone would be there but at 6pm as advertised a surprisingly diverse and large group of ladies came in.
Introductions highlighted that so many had been looking for something like SWiMS to turn to in their hectic and often unsupported working lives.
There was the atmosphere of true friendship in that room and this was transported to our first dinner in the wonderfully Bavarian Paulaner am Nocherberg Restaurant with its vast array of local beers and great food courtesy of KLS Martin who kindly sponsored us and were delighted at how lovely the ladies of OMFS are. But of course we are! As this month comes to an end we look forward to the months ahead. Look out for things to do and places to meet together and interesting topics to discuss.
The future is bright ladies; the future is with SWiMS.
Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon
The Royal Cornwall Hospital