Time is Right for Women in Stroke

Gender-based salary and promotion discrepancies are as real in stroke as they are in any other field. But women are neither alone nor helpless in addressing and correcting workplace discrepancies. Four female leaders in stroke explored current issues in gender disparity and strategies to deal with these issues, during the “Town Hall Forum: Women in Stroke.”

“Now is probably the best time to negotiate salary because a lot of attention is being devoted to the topic,” said Seemant Chaturvedi, MD, Stewart J. Greenbaum endowed professor in stroke neurology, and director of the stroke division at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “I would encourage any of you who are due for your annual reviews to march in with the knowledge and try to get a more equitable salary.”

Marching into your salary review with articles and knowledge is a start, but that may not be enough. An audience member recounted being turned down for an increase despite support from the department chair and dean. She took her arguments to the dean of the school of public health and won the raise.

“You have to go in very proactively with information,” said Karen Furie, MD, Samuel I. Kennison, MD, and Bertha S. Kennison professor of clinical neuroscience, professor of neurology and chair of neurology at Brown University. “Just saying ‘It would be nice to get a raise’ is not going to be very compelling. The more evidence and data you bring, the stronger your case is.”

Disparities and mentoring

Addressing disparities early is key, Furie added. She noted that when you end up on a lower trajectory, the disparity grows over time.

Mentoring is another area that can leave women behind. It is less important for women to have female mentors than to have strong and effective mentors.

“It doesn’t matter what gender they are as long as they are fair and honest and promote you,” said Kyra J. Becker, MD, director of vascular neurology services at the University of Washington Comprehensive Stroke Center at Harbor Hospital, and professor emeritus of neurology at the University of Washington. “My two biggest mentors were both male, and I don’t know that I could have had better mentors irrespective of their chromosomal makeup.”

Mentors fill multiple roles: helping navigate institutional politics, making connections at the national level, providing advice regarding employment, offering tips and tricks for everything from grant writing to family-related issues such as childcare that can affect working life.

“If you don’t have an advocate, you can be sure you are going to be losing out to other people who do,” Furie cautioned. “You really do need mentors. You can’t do it all. But find people you trust; you trust their advice, you trust them to be discreet.”

Work-life balance

Motherhood and family is another problematic area for women. Women are far more likely than men to take leave for the birth of a child and to spend time on family duties, such as picking children up from school or taking them to medical visits. The tension between being committed to both work and family can be difficult.

“We need to encourage more partners to play a role,” said Virginia Howard, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Nutrition Obesity Research Center. “It’s OK for dads to go to PTA meetings. We need to encourage more of that.”

Work-life balance is a never-ending issue, but perspective makes a difference. It is not balance today, Furie said, it is balance over months, years and decades.

“You don’t have to do everything at once,” Becker said. “Have patience. Sometimes, you get frustrated because not everything is happening now. You need the long view, to stay in the trenches, you work, and things happen. So just hang in there.”