By Sonali M. Smith, MD
Chair, Women in Oncology Working Group
The November 2016 issue of ASCO Connection featured a beautiful article on the struggles, challenges, and successes of women in oncology. The article reminded us that, despite growing numbers of women in medicine and oncology, leadership roles and academic advancement remain elusive and more challenging for women, and highlighted the perspectives of several female ASCO members. I am honored and humbled to represent my peers and gender in that article as the chair of the Professional Development Committee’s Women in Oncology Working Group, and amazed by the warm feedback from ASCO members and non-members alike on the impact of the article. This is of course not the first article to raise the issue of gender, but it is a unique piece that reflects ASCO’s ongoing commitment to understanding and discussing the issues female oncologists face on a daily basis.
What else is ASCO doing to further the discussion on gender-based issues? For many years, ASCO has intermittently included sessions within the Annual Meeting’s Education Program focusing on women’s issues. However, in 2014, ASCO created the Women in Oncology Working Group, a subcommittee within the Professional Development Committee, to discuss and understand women’s issues.
At the Annual Meeting in 2015, ASCO opened the doors to the first Women’s Networking Center, a place for all female ASCO members to meet and discuss issues central to women in oncology. Our first year, we created small-group discussions and larger panel discussions to talk about some of the unique challenges facing women. The sessions included topics such as “Building Relationships: Identifying the Women in Your Village,” “Women and Negotiation: Narrowing the Gender Gap,” “Conflict Resolution,” “Women in Industry,” and “Women Leading, Delegating, and Setting Boundaries,” among others. Several of ASCO’s female past and incoming presidents, including Dr. Sandra Swain, Dr. Margaret Tempero, and Dr. Julie Vose, participated. One of ASCO’s strongest voices, Dr. Jamie von Roenn (Vice President of Education, Science, and Professional Development) not only participated in a number of panels but was also present and available for thoughtful discussion throughout the weekend within the Networking Center. Over 300 women attended the first year, and we are now planning the third WNC agenda for the 2017 Annual Meeting. In addition to the Women in Oncology Working Group, ASCO’s charitable component, the Conquer Cancer Foundation, also has an outstanding cocktail event for Women Who Conquer Cancer.
Energizing the issue further is a decision by the ASCO Board of Directors to formulate a strategic plan on women in oncology, to be fleshed out over the coming year. I am proud to belong to an organization that seeks to develop, and not dismiss, this important dialog. While only six ASCO presidents have been women (Rose Ruth Ellison, MD, FASCO [1974-1975]; Karen H. Antman, MD, FASCO [1994-1995]; Margaret A. Tempero, MD, FASCO [2003-2004]; Sandra J. Horning, MD, FASCO [2005-2006]; Nancy E. Davidson MD, FASCO [2007-2008]; Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP, FASCO [2012-2013], and Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO [2015-2016]), it is noteworthy that most of these leaders were elected in recent times, and that our incoming president-elect is Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD. The election of these inspirational women reflects the diversity of ASCO membership, and underscores the talent and value of women in oncology.
Going forward, the mission of the Women in Oncology Working Group is to further understand issues related to wage inequalities, competence assessment, female leadership styles, work-life balance, and harassment, and to recognize conscious and subconscious systematic biases that women face, among other topics. Each month, one of our members will contribute a post to this blog on a specific topic, and we hope you enjoy the discussion. ASCO’s commitment to women is not new, but we hope that the Women in Oncology Blog on ASCOconnection.org brings renewed energy and passion to this topic. Importantly, this is open to all ASCO members, and we invite comments and civil discourse. If you are interested in contributing a guest post to this blog, you can contact ASCO staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To be honest, most workdays I don’t think of myself as a woman per se. At work, I am an oncologist first, striving to deliver quality care in a wonderful institution in Chicago. However, I would be wrong to deny that there are times in my career when I’ve struggled to negotiate, passed on opportunities given my personal and childcare responsibilities, or watched male colleagues academically soar past me as I run home to make dinner. There have been discouraging times and events when I know that being a mother has slowed me down or being a woman has diminished the opportunities available to me. However, I’ve chosen to define success in the long run, and will continue working my way forward one step at a time, knowing I am far from alone and understanding that practical and societal changes supporting women have occurred and will continue to flourish in our field.
As part of ASCO’s commitment to women in oncology, I am happy to introduce this blog. One of our team members suggested the inclusion of enduring material that may be inspirational, supportive, or just informational. So, in a parting spirit, here are some of my favorite (and sometimes controversial) readings regarding women’s issues or touching on topics that may be female-centric—enjoy!
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
- David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
- “Why Do Ambitious Women Have Flat Heads?” 2015 TED Talk by Dame Stephanie Shirley
- Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business by Pat Heim
- The Art of War for Women: Sun Tzu's Ultimate Guide to Winning Without Confrontation by Chin-Ning Chu
Dr. Smith is an associate professor of medicine and director of the Lymphoma Program at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. She serves as the leader of the ASCO Professional Development Committee’s Women in Oncology Working Group.