Two years ago, Cheri L. Canon, MD, FACR, and Rachel Gilbreath, vice president at Hillrom, attended the Radiology Leadership Institute® Summit in Wellesley, Mass., and found themselves bonding over their experiences as leaders in their respective fields — and what they could do to make the path forward easier to navigate for their female peers in healthcare. Although they had different backgrounds — Canon is a professor and chair of radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, while at the time Gilbreath led GE Healthcare’s strategy for academic medical centers across the U.S. — they found they’d encountered many of the same challenges on their rise to leadership positions.
“Women are not encouraged as much through our systems to visualize themselves as leaders,” says Canon.
According to Canon, although the number of women chairs in radiology has doubled since she became chair, it’s still far too low at 20 percent — which she believes speaks to the challenges women continue to face, despite the progress that’s been made. “The biases facing women in academic medicine are substantial,” says Canon. “Radiology is still a minority women field and has been for a very long time, so there are built-in expectations that leaders are predominantly men.”
Canon and Gilbreath’s partnership culminated in the development of a new program for burgeoning women leaders in radiology and the healthcare industry — designed to elevate participants’ careers and help them embrace their leadership potential. Their initiative, entitled Leading, Empowering, and Disrupting (LEAD), is a program jointly led by the Society of Chairs of Academic Radiology Departments (SCARD) and GE Healthcare to increase the number of women in leadership positions within their respective organizations and to build a national community of women across industry and radiology. LEAD, which began in September of 2018 and consists of 20 women — 10 radiologists and 10 GE Healthcare staff — is comprised of monthly one-hour virtual training programs, live meetings, and a mentorship program that spans the course of a year. “The aim of LEAD is to leverage the leadership expertise of both organizations, as well as develop synergies between program participants,” Canon says.
The synergy Canon refers to was a highlight of LEAD’s inaugural year. Alexander M. Norbash, MD, FACR, Summit faculty and co-director, president of SCARD, and LEAD faculty member, recalls one of his favorite moments that occurred at a roundtable discussion during the program’s inaugural event in Santa Fe, N.M. “I was the only man in the room with a large number of energetic, enthusiastic, and empowered women radiologists and executives from GE, and the optimism, joy, and energy were palpable,” he says. “They found each other, they found their commonality, and they were inspired by each other. It was an incredibly positive moment, and that memory will stay with me.”
Gilbreath agrees. “It has been amazing to see the connections that have been made, friendships and relationships that have formed,” she says. “We celebrate each other’s successes and are there to lend our support when needed.”
Norbash wasn’t the only one impressed with the success of LEAD’s first year. One of the participants, Miriam A. Bredella, MD, professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and vice chair for faculty affairs of the department of radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, credits LEAD with changing her perspective and expanding her horizon — particularly in relation to what she discovered from her industry colleagues. “I learned so much about mentoring, career development, and leadership that has helped me in my new position as vice chair for faculty affairs in our department at my home institution,” Bredella says. “LEAD made me more aware of gender biases, and I speak up if I notice them and actively try to promote and sponsor other women.” According to Bredella, LEAD made such an impact on her that she has started a mentoring and leadership development program for her faculty at home.
Both Canon and Carolyn C. Meltzer, MD, FACR, professor and chair of radiology and executive associate dean for faculty academic advancement, leadership, and inclusion at Emory University, agree with Bredella that the mentorship aspect is so critical. According to Meltzer and Canon, women need to see other women in leadership roles so they can see themselves as future leaders. “Cheri and I are examples of something that isn’t very common,” Meltzer says. “We would love to see this program help to amplify the number of women chairs of radiology departments. We don’t particularly cherish being part of such a small minority.”
Leveraging the Power of Networking
According to Meltzer, the connection that formed among the participants was a key indicator of success during LEAD’s first-year run. “One of the most gratifying aspects of LEAD was that all of the women — from industry and from academic medical centers — clicked incredibly well,” Meltzer says. “Initially it seemed each were intimidated by the other, but they had so much in common and also very many complementary experiences.”
Norbash agrees. “Male networking — whether it’s on the golf course, in the boardroom, or at a bar — is something that has been leveraged so that men advance,” he says. “When we have a community of women who are looking out for each other, the things they can accomplish are much greater as a collective.”
Norbash, Meltzer, Gilbreath, and Canon all want to see this first year of LEAD participants take their learnings and run with them — and they believe they will. “What’s really great is this group of women are totally engaged and paying it forward,” Canon says. “They’re really going to become super alumni in helping us plan the next year, which is going to be even better.” According to Meltzer, the program will have many ripple effects. “Some of these women will become chairs or rise in the corporate leadership under GE or with other companies,” Meltzer says. “They will serve as role models for others, and we will look for a tipping point.” Gilbreath believes a network and community has formed that will continue to grow and extend beyond this program. “LEAD has provided GE Healthcare women and leaders expanded insights and perspectives into the challenges and opportunities that exists on the provider side, and not just from a diversity and inclusion standpoint,” Gilbreath says. Norbash agrees. “We should’ve done something like LEAD 20 years ago,” he says. “But we’re excited to be part of this current motion, this wave that’s moving forward.”