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  • Writer's pictureSeema Sharma

Women on the Move

Inclusion in Dentistry

There is much talk about gender equality, yet disappointingly women dentists continue to be undervalued across our profession and under-represented in leadership positions. Women are at the forefront of solving these problems and I am delighted to join hands with a trailblazing group of women to welcome female colleagues into this safe space at the Women Dentists Network (WDN) from which we can pursue the inclusion agenda by collectively supporting each other’s personal and professional development.

Change may be uncomfortable but if I had to name defining characteristics of the women and men I most admire, I would say they are positivity and perseverance in the face of change. Successful people are defined by their failures and their determination to get up, dust off and try again. Successful people don’t wait and see; successful people don’t give up.

The significance of language

The fight for equality begins by battling many people’s first emotional response to the equality and diversity conversation: “I’m not biased.” Fear, shame, and uncertainty about how to overcome our biases is a major hurdle to accepting (and therefore addressing) the current reality, which is that the female experience is notinclusive.There is also the myth of meritocracy;knowledge skills and capabilities do not overcome the biases that women come up against again and again.

  • Diversity issues are largely addressed these days through recruitment processes which give a wider pool of people access to opportunities.

  • Equity is about taking this a step furtherby providing individuals with the tailored support they need, regardless of their starting point.

  • Inclusion requires a transformative approach to breaking down the systemic barriers to inequality, as demonstrated in this excellent infograph from Deloitte Insights.

Supporting each other

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

As a starting point, women need to be supported to be confident about having open conversations with curiosity and courage and the Women Dentists Network aims to facilitate this.Our profession is full of wonderful role models who are stepping forward to inspire women dentists to unleash their full potential, overcome challenges and supercharge their careers. This collaborative leadership is welcomed; it is heartening to see a rise in the conversations about inclusion and the determination, by both men and women, to do something about it.

Being Comfortable withChange

We have felt the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008, multiple regulatory changes over the past decade and now the Covid-19 pandemic. While some are drowning in disillusion and see the path ahead as littered with obstacles, others are developing strategic plans to navigate new paths and take advantage of future opportunities.

Change is like a supertanker coming straight at us. It cannot be stopped, so critical thinking skills are required to evaluate what the future looks like and howwe are most likely to achieve personal and professional success. This may mean staying on a well-trodden path, or it might mean finding another path on which the journey may still not be smooth but the destination holds more appeal.

If you have ever felt as though you are living day to day like a hamster on a wheel, take a moment to envision what life will look like next year, the year after and for every year after that –for patients, for your practice, for those around you and for you personally. Focus on the opportunities that show the most promise, unlock your capacity for innovation and create a road map that will take you to the destination you envision.

We need to believe in ourselves. It is only by stepping out of our comfort zone that we can expand our capabilities. If we routinely operate in our stretch zones, without slipping into our panic zones, our comfort zones will naturally expand, and so will our capacity to be comfortable with change.

“If I have the belief I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning”

Mahatma Gandhi.

Leading Change

Each one of us has a role to play in leading our profession to be more inclusive. Some are drawn naturally to leadership roles. For others the idea of being a change maker is unnerving but it can start simply by making a change in our individual workplaces.

Understanding leadership theories, leadership strategies and leadership models can make a significant difference to our personal impact. If you are interested in leading change at work, at home or across the profession, there is no better place to start than by reflecting on the kind of leaders you have been surrounded by in the course of your career so far.

Transactional leaders work within an organisational culture as it exists, and sadly the culture in highly regulated professions such as dentistry can easilybecome more aboutcascading rules and regulations through the team than about nurturing innovation and excellence.

Transformational leaders, on the other hand, seek to change the culture of their environment, and have a fundamental belief in their ability to deal with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity. They don’t always have the answers but they have enough answers to take calculated risks.

The next stepis to encourage those around us to join the conversation about inclusion, and to reflect on their values and opinions - how they came about and how they influence their attitudes and behaviours. Becoming self-aware helps each of us to understand our own cultural and professional norms, assumptions and biases.


Theoretical knowledge about leading change and overcoming unconscious biases to improve inclusion is only a part of the equation; knowledge can only go so far. If wewant a seat at the table, we cannot go it alone.We need to develop excellent relationships and networks with women, men and organisations working in this space, explore the perspectives, biases and expectations that hamper inclusion in dentistry, and be confident about the role each one of us can play in bringing down systemic barriers to create more opportunities for our membership.

We all come to this space with a wealth of knowledge, skills, values and previous experiences which will underpin the value of our network going forward.Wehave the will to find a way.


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