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A glass ceiling of careers in cardiology?

ESC Congress News 2015 - London

A session this afternoon aims to provide a ‘taster’ of a unique residential programme for female cardiologists and cardiovascular scientists and the tools they need to find their individual leadership styles. This Special Session is in recognition of the ESC’s new commitment to address barriers to female advancement. As a result, five members will be sponsored to attend a leadership programme designed to encourage professional women to develop their unique leadership styles rather than pitting themselves against traditional leadership models. The five were named during this congress as Chiara Bucciarelli-Ducci FESC (UK), Marisa Generosa Crespo-Leiro FESC (Spain), Sigrun Halvorsen FESC (Norway), Nina Johnston FESC (Sweden) and Susanna Price FESC (UK)

Barbara Casadei, ESC Vice President for Scientific Affairs and on a  mission to encourage more women to take on ESC responsibilities.The session is the inspiration of Barbara Casadei, the ESC’s Vice President for Scientific Affairs, who is on a personal mission to encourage more women from within the ESC to stand for committees and fellowships. ‘The ESC is aware that the future will witness a gender flip in the profession, as women now represent more than 50% of medical graduates,’ says Casadei. ‘But, there is currently a disturbing discrepancy between the number of men and women standing for leadership positions both in the working place and ESC.’

While women now comprise one-third of the ESC membership, only 1.7% of them are ESC fellows compared with 6% of male members. Female professors of cardiology across Europe are scarce and women are similarly under-represented on the ESC Board, with Casadei - from the University of Oxford - being the only elected female voting member alongside 11 men.

Diversity in the leadership of any professional organisation is important, she insists, because it enriches that organisation by creating greater competiveness. ‘Having a wider array of people involved allows one to see things from different perspectives, provides organisations with more ammunition in times of crisis and avoids wasting 50% of the talent.’

There is moreover a general recognition that organisations aiming to survive and thrive need to embrace more women. A report by McKinsey & Co, ‘The Business of Empowering Women’, published in January 2010, showed that companies with gender-balanced executive committees have 56% higher operating profits than those with male-only committees.

The solution, says Casadei, is not to form women-only splinter groups, but to integrate women firmly into an organisation. ‘One needs to equip women with tools that allow them to become confident enough to take some risks and embrace challenges and responsibilities,’ she says.

To help promote women the ESC will be sponsoring five female ESC Fellows to attend the Women Transforming Leadership Programme at the Said Business School of the University of Oxford, from 5 to 9 October this year.

In today’s session, Kathryn Bishop, the programme director, will provide an overview of the five-day residential programme and an interactive taster of what delegates can expect. The programme, launched in 2012, has been designed to help women reach new levels of personal and professional confidence by transforming their ability to affect organisational and social change. Delegates, who number around 30 women for each programme and come from all over the world, are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, including science, health, engineering, finance, and government. ‘What’s surprising is that the issues faced are the same,’ says Bishop.

Throughout the residential week participants explore different styles of leadership, both traditional and contemporary. ‘We aim to encourage women to examine different styles of leadership - to learn a broader set of leadership styles that they feel confident to use in different circumstances.’

All delegates leave Oxford with a personal action plan for their own leadership development and an understanding of their individual skills and strengths. A major bonus is their ready-made network of fellow participants with whom they have shared stories and leadership challenges.

In the interactive Special Session today Bishop plans to take one session from the Women Transforming Leadership programme to help participants explore the leadership challenges they face and how best to rise to those challenges. The highly interactive session will help participants answer the questions: what kind of leader are you and what kind of challenges are you best equipped to face?

Women transforming leadership programme: enabling women’s careers in cardiology, 1 Sep 12:45-13:45,  Regent’s Park - The Hub