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International Women’s Day an opportunity to reflect on equality for all

08 Mar 2021

In December 2018, I was elected President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. It was a milestone in many ways. For me personally, it was the culmination of years of dedication and hard work.

College President Professor Jackie Taylor has written an article as part of International Women’s Day.

In December 2018, I was elected President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. It was a milestone in many ways. For me personally, it was the culmination of years of dedication and hard work. I have always been motivated to deliver the highest standards of care to my patients but also to evolve what the College delivers for the profession. It marked a wonderful opportunity to make a difference to both. This is what I have strived to do throughout my time as President, focusing on three of the major factors that I believe need to be thoughtfully and meaningfully addressed if we are to genuinely offer the best levels of patient care – wellbeing, workforce, and equality and inclusion.

My election to President also marked the first time in the College’s 420 year history that a woman had been elected to the role. While we celebrated this milestone, we must not forget that it also highlights some of the long standing struggles that women have faced in reaching leadership positions.

When I assumed the role of President, I was supported by a team of five College Vice Presidents – two physicians, two surgeons, and one dental surgeon. Of these, two others were also women. Hazel Scott as Vice President (Medical) and Alison Lannigan, Vice President (Surgical). We had an equal gender balance of three men and three women in these six leadership roles. As the years have passed and individual terms of office have come to an end as annual elections have been held, our College will find itself again, in December 2021 when my term as President comes to an end, with six men in these roles. My male colleagues are all outstanding in the work they do, and each one of them is very deserving of the roles to which they have been elected. The reality is that no women put themselves forward for these roles this time round. While we understand some of the factors which play into this, it is so important that we continue to encourage women into these leadership roles. Our first Leadership Development programme for women which completed in 2020, will hopefully act as springboard for many capable colleagues. The Deans of the Faculties of Travel Medicine (Jane Chiodini) and Podiatric Medicine (Christine Skinner) are women as is our Honorary Librarian (Morven McElroy), and there are six women in total on our Council. There is real strength in diversity.

Last week, our College held the first of our Reframed series of conversations through which we are looking deep into our heritage and addressing issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. The first of these focused on the brilliant and celebrated surgeon, Joseph Lister. While Lister’s contribution to medical science will always be celebrated, it is not so well known that he was very outspoken about women’s access to surgical education and refused to accept women into his classes. Lister’s views were consistent with many others of the time, and that legacy has been felt for many, many years. Fortunately that culture has changed. By understanding, questioning and opening up conversations about these inequalities, we can learn from them and lead the process of change.

Equality is a human right. It is not something that anyone should need to fight for. Whether that’s a woman, a person with disability, or a person with a different cultural background to others around them. We are all the same, and should always treat each other as equals. Within the College we are committed to setting our own house in order, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the achievements of our Inclusion Advisory Group and network.

There remain great challenges in our society to overcome ongoing issues of inequality. From the gender pay gap that still exists to the huge differences in life expectancy that we see between those living in wealth and in poverty. Inequality continues to flow through too many aspects of our lives and the COVID-19 pandemic has simply magnified the problems which already existed. We cannot accept this. The onus is on each of us to challenge inequality in all walks of life, and to ensure that as services recover they are focussed on reducing health inequalities in particular.

Category: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

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