A message from Saroo Sharda, Associate Dean of Equity and Inclusion, on International Women's Day.

The Hamilton Charter Promoting Gender Equity in Healthcare was signed last year by three of Hamilton’s major health sciences organizations, including the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University. 

The charter calls for work to advance and include women-identifying, gender-diverse, racialized and other equity deserving health care professionals and educators to create an environment of inclusion for all and to bring about gender equity for women of many ethno-racial backgrounds.

What does this work look like in action? It can sometimes be overwhelming to think about enacting systems change. Let’s remember, however, that as members of the health care community, we ARE the system.

“We are in systems and systems are within us.”  

Rhonda Magee  

I urge each of us to reflect on the action-oriented steps we are taking as researchers, clinicians, leaders and educators. How are we embracing equity in our day-to-day interactions, our language, our curricula, our policies and beyond? As the mother of two boys, I'm always thinking about how to instill in them the importance of being an ally and an upstander. This work is not just the work of women identifying folk. We need everyone to take responsibility.

Allyship is more than just a word. It’s a lifelong action-oriented practice. It’s ok to start small. But start we must.

Here are actionable ways to promote gender equity.

1. Use gender-inclusive language

Words matter. Language is a powerful tool to relate and communicate with others. The ways we speak and the words we use can have a deep impact on those around us. Use proper or preferred terminology and gender-neutral language (e.g., chairperson, mail carrier, humankind) whenever possible. Finding out why certain words are or are not used can help contextualize learnings and make it easier to integrate them into your life.  

2. Make room for failure and accept that others will fail

To effectively promote gender equity, we must accept the fact that we will make mistakes along the way. Give yourself grace and patience as you work towards self-betterment, viewing these mistakes as an opportunity for growth and learning. Do not let those mistakes, or the fear of making mistakes, prevent you from trying to affect change. The same is true for others.  

3. Make hidden work seen

Women, and especially those in intersectional spaces, often have the volume of their work overlooked and unacknowledged. It is not that unseen work provides no value, but that it is so foundational that others overlook the fact that it is work. At work, historically women have often been asked to take on additional tasks and responsibilities, typically administrative in nature, without getting credit or adequate compensation. At home, women take on a disproportionate amount of the cognitive and emotional labour, e.g., taking care of appointments, remembering dietary restrictions and preferences, making sure all household chores get done and more. Be mindful if the work you do is made possible by the work of others, who may not get the same recognition. Be thankful and let people know you see the work that they do and appreciate it. Making that hidden work seen ensures that it gets measured and managed.  

4. Be mindful of your own ignorance

Women and non-binary folks that are a part of 2SLGBTQI+, Indigenous, Black, and racialized groups, and the individuals that intersect within them, are not responsible for bearing the emotional weight of teaching others. Find spaces where questions and learning are encouraged; where proper processes and structures are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all involved.  

5. Be present

Whether as a mentor, an ally, or simply as a trusted friend or partner, one of the best ways to promote gender equity is to be there for the people in your life. Be there, without judgment or your own agenda. Be fully present when talking with the people in your life. Listen, do not listen to respond. Be the person others can come to when they are emotionally and mentally exhausted from the work they do in the spheres in which they live and work.  

6. Think global, act local

Many organizations that support and promote gender equity do not receive adequate funding for their initiatives and programs. Local organizations rely on volunteers and project-by-project funding and are limited by their financial resources. Whether donating your money or your time, getting involved in a local program can make a significant impact on your community and the people within it. It might not be realistic to expect to make a substantial impact on a large scale. Start where you are.  

7. Continue learning

We cannot break down and remove barriers if we do not see them, nor will we put in the work if we do not acknowledge there is work that needs to be done. Learning how to promote gender equity and inclusivity is more than just checking a box or completing mandatory training. We must all take an active interest in learning how to be better, and then integrate those learnings into our life. Promoting gender equity is work that we must consciously decide to keep doing and keep learning how to do better.  

7 actionable tips composed by Latasha Deleo with thanks to Albina Veltman, associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences, Anne Niec, professor in the department of pediatrics and Anne K. Wong, professor in the department of anesthesia, for providing the following resources which helped inform this article.

Learn more about ways to promote gender equity 

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