As I listened to a recent discussion among SGIM Council members, I was struck by how diverse we are as a Society and proud of our efforts to reflect that diversity in our governing Council. Although we aren’t perfect and have work to do, we are ahead of many other medical professional societies. Diversity is our strength—it provides us with opportunities and stimulates problem-solving and innovation. Diverse groups outperform homogeneous groups because they bring different perspectives, knowledge, and experiences to the table.1
However, for diversity to be a strength, people must be open to each other’s perspectives, willing to collaborate, and aware of our own biases and lenses, the filters we use when considering a topic. During the Council discussion, I realized that I need to be acutely aware of my lenses, the way I see the world and the work of SGIM, to be an effective leader and member of SGIM’s Council. After all, we are a society of academic general internists with wide ranging activities and interests.
Here are my lenses. I am a cis-gender older white woman. I was raised with the privilege of an upper-middle-class life in a family that valued education. Not going to college never occurred to me. My father was a primary care physician at a Chicago Public Health clinic and came home every evening at 5:00 pm to have dinner with our family. He spent evenings with us, instead of doing clinic work. We lived with my paternal grandfather in inner-city Chicago until his death, and I spent summers with my maternal grandparents on a small farm in Iowa. At a young age, I saw the differences in life and priorities in these two settings and their similarities, especially when you got down to what really mattered to people. I never thought this geographic difference would divide a country.
I value the people around me who remind me when I forget about my lenses, use language that is less inclusive, or don’t reach out to people who should have a voice in a discussion or decision. I’ve asked them to keep it up—I do learn. I don’t shy away from different opinions and ideas. These are opportunities to learn and grow. Senior residents give me strange looks when I tell an inpatient team that I like it when we don’t agree. I know we will learn from each other by talking about why we don’t agree.
I am firmly committed to continue and extend our work on diversity, equity, and inclusion that started with Dr. Kutner’s SGIM presidency in 2020. During Dr. Lypson’s presidency, SGIM developed a DEI statement.2 Dr. Hicks broke new ground for SGIM at the Southern Regional meeting when he met with pre-medical college students from Xavier University, one of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), during the meeting’s first HBCU day.3 These will be large shoes for me to fill. I am grateful that Dr. Hicks will continue to lead our work on DEI and developing an anti-racist culture and inclusive environment, and I will add my support in whatever ways I can.
Sheryl Sandberg’s advice about overcoming gender barriers in her popular book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead missed the mark. She encouraged women to embrace their strengths and abilities and be assertive.4 She forgot an important barrier for those of us who have been “leaning in”—cultural and systemic biases in our institutions and leaders especially for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and those with disabilities. I will follow the advice of Drs. Jacobs, Linder, and Denizard-Thompson in their viewpoint, “Stepping Up by Stepping Back to Promote Equity in Academic Medicine.”5 They challenge leaders to mentor, sponsor, and promote people from systemically minoritized groups and give them a voice and influence in organizations, even if it means stepping back from their positions of power. I have had a rich career because leaders, many of whom are SGIM members, who tapped my shoulder and asked me to step up. They introduced me to collaborators, gave me opportunities to lead, and believed in me. I will work hard to do the same for others in SGIM.
I am a connector who finds joy in introducing people who share work or interests but have never met. I am excited to find opportunities and sponsor people for positions and programs that advance their careers. It is the most important part of my job as a GIM section chief. I also see connections in ideas and opportunities that on the surface don’t seem connected—I can’t help myself. I am hoping that I can use this strength to bring SGIM’s diverse groups and ideas together to strengthen our work as a society and especially our work on an inclusive environment and anti-racist culture. Please join me!