I come from a small town in the Midwest. Both my parents were physicians, a source of pride, and later disappointment as they divorced in the late sixties. I know that I was part of a lineage of women, my mother, my grandmother, and my great aunt on my father’s side, the first woman to graduate from a small Mennonite college who eventually became the dean of women at a small college. She played a role in bringing Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at that college in 1961. She had two aunts who were family physicians in central Kansas at the turn of the 20th century; they rode horse and buggies to deliver babies. This is part of my legacy.
Another part is my mother’s fight to get into medical school, then later as a pioneer in rehabilitation medicine, opening up the first rehabilitation hospital in a medium-sized Southern city in the early seventies. Her pioneering spirit was not a tempered one, and she moved every few years. I blamed her. During her career, she said she didn’t care whose toes she stepped on, but she really did, and it hurt her – proud but hurt. I watched that growing up, and vowed never to be that way. This is where my story begins.
Why am I doing this?
Because I did it wrong. I was a department manager for a major hospital. I started from the ground up as a young practitioner and worked my way up the ladder for 14 years. During that period of time, I was told repeatedly by different bosses that I was one of the best managers, but didn’t believe them. However, what’s more important is that as the culture changed in the management team, I didn’t pay attention to what was happening. In six years our division went from having all women and one male manager to having only one woman on the team – that was me. The message was clear. I subconsciously understood what was happening, but continued doing what had worked before: if I worked hard enough, it would be different. I was eventually “reorganized.” History repeated itself: proud but hurt.
Two years later, my sister, a physician-practitioner at a top-tier medical school, took her life because of her inability to secure a tenured research position (Isaac, 2007). The question of whether an institution can be blamed for such a death can be debated. Less debatable is the effect on other striving women in the profession of a woman killing herself. Intellectually, I know that organizations do not kill people; people make their own choices. However, it was this tragedy that propelled me to create an intervention that is accessible to other professional women.
There are currently many books that are written by successful women leaders. While their books are inspiring and may be helpful, there is a problem with translation. One study by Heilman and Martel (1986), hypothesized that exposure to the successes of women in traditionally male occupations would decrease subsequent sex bias in hiring decisions. Results showed that the discrepant ratings of male and female applicants were significantly reduced only when the information presented concerned a group of women (not just one) in the same occupation (not a different position). For women, a successful CEO may look like an outlier rather than a person to mirror. This is why I believe this work is so important. Have you ever been enthusiastic after a conference only to have your hopes dashed by Monday morning? This is the divided self.
My research | View my CV and publications
My primary research interest is in leadership and gender in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). My dissertation, Women Deans: Patterns of Power was published in 2007. In my post-doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the theme of my research was the role implicit bias plays in the career advancement of women in academic STEMM (Isaac CV). During my five years at UW-Madison, I co-developed and co-taught an interdisciplinary evidenced-based “Women and Leadership” seminar for women in STEMM. This seminar served as an intervention, immersed students in the social psychology empirical research pertaining to implicit bias, and then provided practical strategies for their career development. This work was published by CBE: Life Sciences Education as “An educational intervention designed to increase women’s leadership self-efficacy.”
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