Dealing with Glass Ceiling Issues*

Janice Gabrilove, M.D.
Professor of Medical Oncology

Define your goals and strategies to reach them

  1. Find mentors early in your career. Your boss is not necessarily your mentor and certainly is not your only mentor. (Realize that there is a major change after medical school in which most women experience an even playing field with defined mentorships.)
  2. Identify the areas in which you want to be mentored. These include being recommended for conference presentation, leadership positions in organizations, nomination to important committees within the institution.
  3. Conquer possible isolation: ask for help from "bosses," peers, and support staff.
  4. Acknowledge and find ways to fulfill the extra family burdens that fall on you as a woman.
  5. Newly emerging complex biomedical science and medicine requires team approach. This can benefit women since the team approach fits the "style" of many women. Go to #6.
  6. Especially in joint efforts, understand and deal with authorship issues as soon as possible so that your work will get appropriate credit.
  7. Enroll in extramural leadership training programs, e.g. AAMC Junior and Senior Professional Development Seminars.
  8. Training in negotiation strategies and skills is essential also.
  9. Use your analytical skills on your own career strategies and professional choices.
  10. Find the freedom to move to different academic positions/institutions for your best development.
  11. Acknowledge gender-related aspects of work tension:
  12. We can work to change the academic medicine system.

    AND ask yourself, what can we do better? How can we get out of our own way?

    We need to take the initiative to explain our different communication styles in a non-threatening manner.

    Women have an important responsibility to reach back and pull along other women on the same professional track. It requires a conscious commitment and effort to educate those that come before, as much as to get help for your own mentorship needs.

  13. Learn from women's progress in business. Compared with academic medicine, women in business are making faster progress and receive more financial rewards as they break through to higher levels of leadership and management.

The most empowering action is to face the truth of your situation and choose actively what to do. Often this means realizing that you can do better and that you deserve to get what you are aiming for. Then, it's up to you to go after your goals and find an environment that will support you.

In conclusion, be proactive. You can be who you want to be. And, remember to ask yourself what you can do better.


  1. Nonnemaker L. Women Physicians in Academic Medicine: New Insights from Cohort Studies. N Engl J Med 2000 Feb 10;342(6):399-405.
  2. Fried LP, Francomano CA, MacDonald SM, Wagner EM, Stokes EJ, Carbone KM, Bias WB, Newman MM, Stobo JD. Career development for women in academic medicine: Multiple interventions in a department of medicine. JAMA 1996 Sep 18; 276(11):898-905

*The final version of the experts' presentations have been edited by Sandra K. Masur, Ph.D.(WFG President), Miki Rifkin, Ph.D.(WFG Vice President) often from notes of Kathryn Kaplan, Ph.D.,MSSM Consultant, Organizational Development.

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