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Tools of the trade help mid-career women faculty advance

Published on Thursday, June 1, 2017

By: Ruth Cummins

As they approach the mid-career landmark - and even before that - women faculty at the University of Mississippi Medical Center need mentors to guide them one-on-one as they develop into leaders.

Women faculty need to decide what their career goals are, and they need to have sponsors willing to put themselves on the line to help them get there.

“Mentors advise, and sponsors act,” Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, told those taking part this week in the UMMC Mid-Career Women Faculty Professional Development Workshop.

Sponsored by the Office of Faculty Affairs and the Group on Women in Medicine and Science, the gathering brought together mid-career faculty women from all of the Medical Center's schools. They learned how to better communicate, successfully negotiate, and reach out to potential mentors and sponsors.

Dr. Victoria Gonzalez, right, assistant professor of otolaryngology and communicative sciences, talks with a colleague during the workshop.
Dr. Victoria Gonzalez, right, assistant professor of otolaryngology and communicative sciences, talks with a colleague during the workshop.

“Faculty Affairs is working hard to promote collaboration across schools and offer more multidisciplinary networking and development opportunities,” said Vickie Skinner, the office's project manager. “With tightening budgets, everyone on campus is finding ways to do more with less. This workshop is one example of a low cost, high yield event. We used internal speakers who are considered subject matter experts.”

The group practiced exchanging information and developing contacts, skills needed to advance a career. And, they got tips on how to negotiate a deal, when you should compromise, and when you should walk away from the table.

The crowd included School of Dentistry biomedical materials science instructor Susana Salazar Marocho. As she approaches the mid-career mark, Marocho said, she wants to know now what obstacles and opportunities await her.

“I'm hoping to have a base for what it will be like,” Marocho said. “I'm hoping to become an associate professor and be on tenure track.  I want to learn from people who are at that stage.”

A good place to start your professional development is through networking on the job, Skinner said. “Women who are mid-career sometimes find it hard to promote themselves,” she said. “As you pass leaders in the hall, give them a brief update on what you're working on and what's going well. It's a moment for you to highlight things about yourself that they may not get to see.”

Dr. Dongmei Cui, right, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomical science, takes part in a negotiation exercise.
Dr. Dongmei Cui, right, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomical science, takes part in a negotiation exercise.

 Women faculty need role models who are mentors, more than one, and from areas outside their department or field, Woodward said. “Mentors for me early on were people I trusted,” she said, citing Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research, and Dr. James Keeton, former UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs. “They gave me advice multiple times along the way, and they showed confidence in me in a public way. I so appreciated that.”

Sponsorship is different, said Dr. Rebecca Sugg, associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurology. “A sponsor is a person who assumes responsibility for another person's success. They advocate for that person. Both a sponsor and a mentor develop you as a leader, but a sponsor takes a known leader and tries to advance them to the next level.”

Your style of communication plays a role in your development as a leader, said Dr. Lisa Didion, associate professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Office of Patient Experience. Sometimes, she said, it's not what you say, but how you say it.

“Your communication style goes hand in hand with your leadership style,” she said. “Let your voice be known, but you've got to find a graceful way to do it. Take criticism gracefully.”

Just as critical is learning how to negotiate, whether it's for a pay raise, selling a business or buying a car, said Liz Youngblood, CEO of the Medical Center's adult hospitals and metro-area clinics.

Didion speaks to workshop attendees about communication styles.
Didion speaks to workshop attendees about communication styles.

“Some of the most effective people in negotiations are the ones who can get down to the facts,” she said. “Some people try to drive the emotion out of you. You have to make sure you don't get lost in the emotion of what is happening.”

She asked her audience to take part in a simple, yet meaningful negotiation exercise: Pair up, and choose a place where you want to eat dinner that's different from the other person. Then, negotiate on which it will be.

Some women out-convinced their partners. Some caved. And some came up with a third option: Eat the next night at the other restaurant. Whoever gets their pick buys dinner. Or, figure out a way that UMMC will pay for it.

“If there had been men in this room, I think we would have had some different outcomes,” Youngblood joked.

In a negotiation, she said, know exactly what you want going in, what you're willing to compromise and what you're not willing to compromise. “Women are quicker to compromise than men,” Youngblood said. “We need to stick to our guns, and sometimes, you need to walk away and find another method to reach your goals.”

Youngblood leads a presentation on negotiation.
Youngblood leads a presentation on negotiation.

Make an offer that doesn't conflict with your bottom line, she said. Be willing to counter-offer, and know what is the best that you can do if the other person won't negotiate with you. “If you can't walk away, I'm not sure if it's a negotiation,” she said.

Be careful to negotiate with integrity, and build a personal relationship when you can, she advised. “The world is incredibly small. You may want to do business with them in the future,” Youngblood said. “Know that if you walk away, it could hurt a relationship.”

Along the way, Woodward said, don't let your job and career become so overwhelming that you lose your focus. “Nobody can find that right balance except you. When you move forward, you've got to leave something behind. If not, you'll drown,” she said.

“One of the things we all have to learn is to simply say thank you, simply say yes, and simply say no - or in Mississippi, no thank you. Make deliberate decisions. You can be whatever you want to be.”