• Dr. Catherine Meller

The importance of role models

Stereotypes are psychological belief structures that affect everyone universally, but is unique to each person. Stereotypes stem from the natural association humans minds make between people who exhibit a particular characteristic, and the traits that we associate with him. These kind of associations exist in order to help us make sense of our world quickly and efficiently - humans are programmed to seek out patterns and make conclusions based on previous experience with such patterns.

Dr. Cath representing the Royal Australian College of Surgeons - Women in Surgery
We're not just women in surgery, we're role models in everyday life...

The world of today is astonishingly diverse and complex. Traditional societal roles are becoming less and less defined by demographics like gender and age. Many men choose to take on a greater role in parenting than has previously been considered the norm. People are staying in the workforce for longer, challenging the concept of ‘retirement age’. Many women are taking on roles alongside, or instead of traditionally ‘maternalistic’ duties, evolving our workplace landscape through flexible working hours and workplace design.

One reason that we have come so far is because of role models. It is hard to challenge ‘the norm’ outwardly, given stereotypes are often unconscious. The power of seeing people that represent ‘you’ in a position of influence cannot be underestimated. It is for this reason that female role models are important in shaping future societal beliefs. When the education of tomorrow’s leaders is at the hands of a diverse group, working together to push the boundaries of science and technology forward, it inspires entire generations. Associate Professor Kelvin Kong is one of only three Indigenous surgeons in Australia, and a strong ambassador for improving the health outcomes of Indigenous people. His leadership and dedication to the community are an example of how diversity in medicine has improved health outcomes at a national level.

Placing women into leadership positions, (not because of gender, but rather because they are suitably qualified) can similarly bring a different view point and skill set to a high performing team, and is a crucial consideration in promoting workplace diversity. And whilst the path to greater diversity in leadership teams is challenging, the benefits may affect generations of women to come. In my own experience, leadership is a difficult and confronting place, made easier to bear by the support of mentors. In a male dominated field such as surgery, I am fortunate to work closely with many champions of change, many of whom actively change stereotypes daily by teaching and mentoring others with tolerance and professionalism.

As a wife, surgeon, and mother of sons I am excited that my boys will grow up seeing the world with a previously unencountered level of opportunity, and belief that we can all make a change, sometimes simply by being a positive role models for others.

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