Leadership Training Can Help Reduce Gender Inequalities at the Top

Leadership Training Can Help Reduce Gender Inequalities at the Top

Women in Oncology

Mar 02, 2017

Dr. Arti HurriaBy Arti Hurria, MD
ASCO Board of Directors member

In 2010, Sheryl Sandberg delivered a TED talk that would form the foundation of her bestselling book, Lean In, the seminal 2013 text that encourages workplace empowerment and professional advancement for women. In her talk, she observed the considerable strides women had made over the generations in terms of professional opportunities, but said that we still have a long way to go as it relates to career equality. As she noted, “Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. The numbers tell the story quite clearly: 190 heads of state—nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13% are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top, C-level jobs, board seats, tops out at 15, 16%... And even in the nonprofit world, a world we sometimes think of as being led by more women, women at the top: 20%.”1

Unfortunately, medicine is not immune to this phenomenon. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Report on the State of Women In Academic Medicine reveals that while men make up 62% of full-time faculty, women make up 38%. Further, while gains are being made in women in academic leadership positions, the numbers remain low, with women holding just 15% of department chair positions and accounting for 16% of deans.2 But we are lucky to stand on the shoulders of prior strong ASCO women leaders intent on changing these numbers, and one way to start is by taking advantage of the spectrum of activities available that can help us foster leadership skills. The AAMC Faculty Forward Engagement Survey reveals that women in medicine are yearning for more professional development programming; the ASCO Leadership Development Program offers the type of training that can help women in oncology fix what many call “the leaky pipeline” to women in leadership positions.

The mission of the ASCO Leadership Development Program is to provide participants with the opportunity to network with and receive mentorship from ASCO leaders, gain exposure to U.S. government research agencies, and receive first-hand advocacy experience on Capitol Hill. But the program goes much deeper than that. For example, it teaches skills like negotiation and conflict management, skills indispensable to any leadership position, and even more indispensable to women still working their way up the career ladder. Consider: Maria Konnikova reported in The New Yorker in 2014 that while only 7% of women attempted to negotiate initial salary offers, 57% of men did so.3 But negotiation goes beyond compensation; it extends to nearly every facet of team-based and clinical work environments.

Wisdom about leadership is changing, and women are uniquely poised to take advantage of this shift and fill leadership positions. Authoritative, punitive, and control-based management is ineffective for fostering the growth of employees in the 21st century.4 Rather than adopt outdated strategies, Ms. Sandberg developed her own leadership style, which emphasizes self-confidence, boldness, sisterhood, and inspiration over direction.5 Similarly, the ASCO Leadership Development Program enabled me to define my own leadership style, which is rooted in patience, encouragement, and nurturance, as well as clear communication, composure in times of perceived crisis, and seeing obstacles as opportunities for growth.

The ASCO Leadership Development Program can help give you the tools to reach the upper ranks of oncology. And what’s more, you can do it on your own terms. As I learned from participating in the Leadership Development Program, and as Ms. Sandberg reiterates, women can “define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents, and interests.”

The application period for the ASCO Leadership Development Program for mid-career oncologists opens on July 1, 2017.

Dr. Hurria is director of the Cancer and Aging Research Program, co-leader of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program, and professor of Medical Oncology and Therapeutics Research at City of Hope. She serves as a member of ASCO’s Board of Directors.


  1. Sandberg S. Why we have too few women leaders. Talk given at TEDwomen 2010; Dec 7, 2010; Washington D.C. Accessed Jan 31, 2017.
  2. Lautenberger DM, Dandar VM, Raezer C L, Sloane Rae Anne. The state of women in academic medicine. Association of American Medical Colleges. Accessed Jan 31, 2017.
  3. Konnikova M. Lean out: the dangers for women who negotiate. The New Yorker. June 10, 2014. Accessed Jan. 31, 2017.
  4. Ryan L. Five outdated leadership ideas that need to die. Forbes. June 10, 2016. Accessed Feb. 6, 2017.
  5. Sandberg S. Interview with Joanna Barsh. McKinsey Quarterly. April 2013. Accessed Feb. 7, 2017.


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Sonali M. Smith, MD

Mar, 04 2017 3:27 PM

Dear Arti--this is fantastic! I especially appreciate the part about evolving leadership styles for the modern world, which applies to both men and women, but is particularly relevant for women who may be less hierarchical in their leadership style. We need engaged section and department chiefs to encourage female faculty to apply to the LDP. It's an amazing program that supports growth on so many levels. Are there other former LDP members who would like to comment on the value of the program? 


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