Heidi Jannenga (founder and owner of Web PT) and I have been talking quite a bit over the last few months on several topics. Specifically, why is there such a lack of female leaders and business owners in our profession? Despite the APTA being majority women, the number of female private practice business owners is a fraction of their male counter part. What factors have led to this trend? And more importantly, how can we encourage women, if they desire, to “climb the corporate ladder” and potentially own their own business?
Our discussion started around a book by Sheryl Sandberg entitled “Lean In”. Although the book was published over a year ago, I had not heard of it. When Heidi brought it to my attention, I quickly grabbed a copy and had it read within a few days. Sheryl brought up so many great points and quite frankly, things that I hadn’t really thought about in the past.
I had so many strong women around me growing up, that I knew I could do whatever I wanted. My mom single handedly took care of my dad as he had a progressive disease process called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. I watched her take care of him until the end, when he could only use his eyes to communicate (up and down was yes. Side to side was no). She was strong as a rock. She fought for his right to live, as that is what he wanted. Even when the doctors wanted to let him die because they felt he had “ a poor quality of life”, she fought for what he wanted and made sure things went down the way he wanted to. He wanted to be around as long as possible and as long as we were around, his quality of life was great. She didn’t care who in the hospital she had to fight. She fought and my dad won by dying on his own terms . My dad’s sister was a young Catholic Italian woman in the 1930’s. She met a Jewish man who she fell madly in love with, converted to Judaism, and married him. Oh, and before she did that, she moved away from her family to move south and become business woman, opening her own boutiques in different cities. This did not follow the typical Italian Catholic lifestyle that she was “supposed” to follow. My mom’s mom was an Italian spitfire. Enough said there.
Needless to say, some unbelievable women surrounded me as I grew up. Quite frankly, I think because of this, I didn’t even think about how being a woman could negatively affect me in anything I did. It has never been a factor in my career. Prior to becoming the first woman to hold the position of Head AT in professional US sport, I thought about my gender about as much as I thought about my eye color. It just wasn’t something I considered a factor during my career choices.
After talking with Heidi and reading the Sandberg book, I realized that everyone has not been as lucky as I have been with regard to strong woman role models in their life. When Heidi talked about the #PropelHer idea with me, I thought it was great. Having an avenue to pair women up with each other for mentoring, discussion and idea exchange is fantastic, especially for those women who need more female mentors in their life. And for women like myself, who have been fortunate enough to have those mentors in life, to have the opportunity to give back to the next generation of amazing female professionals is so exciting!
Looking back, if I had had a specific mentor as described, I would just want to learn from their path, learn from their experiences, learn from the challenges they have already faced, and have a resource to call if I ran into trouble somewhere along the line. As a woman, there are situations in a male dominant field that can be difficult to navigate. I feel as though I have handled those situations they best way I knew how at the time. I am sure having a mentor to guide me through those situations would have saved me some growing pains.
Don’t get me wrong; I had so many mentors in the field of sports medicine as I was coming up during school and during my entire career. I will admit, that most of those people were men. There were a few amazing woman during my time at UNC that I was lucky enough to spend time with and learn from. CB Lehn, Sally Mays and Meredith Petscauer among others were strong, confident women and they knew their way around a training room. Seeing them be so successful at what is arguably one of the top 3 sports medicine programs in the country was yet another reason that I never really considered my gender as something that could hold me back. I had amazing examples in my life. And, embarrassingly, I am just now realizing how truly blessed I was to be surrounded by so many amazing secure, positive and self-reliant woman. It was normal. I didn’t separate my mentors into woman and men. They all were just people who I respected, looked up to, and relied on to help me establish the path I have been on for all of these years. I didn’t know otherwise.
I hope the #PropelHer movement can bring awareness to the continued gender inequality issues that surprisingly still exist today. I hope that young, upcoming woman will be able to recognize the support they have not just from other women but from many men as well. I hope established female leaders in our field continue to be the amazing women they are, and are willing to jump on board to mentor the group of women that need our support.