The significance of female role models within the workplace

As many of you know, my name is Mahrukh Khwaja and I am the founder of Empowering Women in Dentistry. I am a dentist, having graduated from King’s in 2010. After completing my vocational training, I decided to stay within NHS dentistry and worked in Kent, Essex and Birmingham. My first years after university were the worst in my career. I was unfortunate enough to have two extremely narcissistic bosses, a woman and man, who were much more invested in tearing down rather than nurturing. It was when I finally moved back to London after my divorce, that I decided it was long overdue for me to invest in myself and career. I wanted to have more meaningful connections with patients. I wanted to make a difference.

I signed up to all the courses that would help me upskill and provide high quality dentistry that could change a smile and life. It was exhilarating to finally meet other female dentist that were passionate about their career. Only one of the courses was lead by a female – Six Months Smiles. It was until I met Dr Mali Aghelnejad, and felt an instant euphoria that I could also be as successful as her, did I truly value the significance of positive female role models within business.

Significance of role models

We only need to look at our childhoods to appreciate the significance of our attachments and the value of role models in inspiring, motivating and encouraging us to be the best versions of ourselves. Despite a superficial progression in women’s rights, inequality persists in nuances throughout UK. Successful women just are not portrayed within the workplace as men are.

From then on, I noted every course or conference, despite finding them inspiring and educational, it was painfully clear how under represented women were.

In March, I was on a train to another course, that I thought, it really is time for change. I wanted to be part of a group that helped empower women, connect rather than complete against each other and challenge inequalities within the workplace. Maybe it was the momentum for women, with the Harvey Weinstein scandal as a backdrop, that propelled this concept. I just knew from then on, I couldn’t shake my desire for change.

The journey to empower

I searched online and social media to see if there were similar groups. I reached out to male course leaders. I spoke to other women. There just didn’t appear to be a group that represented women in a way that I connected with. I intially envisaged interviewing women in dentistry to showcase positive role models. I thought to approach journals and other blogs to publicise my cause. It wasn’t until a certain male gave me some excellent advice – that is to stop asking for permission from others and just do it – that I took the plunge to make the group a reality. I opened an instagram account for the group, set up my own blog and bought my domain. I initially approached women via social media and then a beautiful thing started to happen – women started approaching me to be involved.

The common theme amongst the inspirational women I have interviewed emerged strongly – they have had to fight against adversity and been bullied at school level or university level, some also unfortunately, undermined whilst working. Many of them possess similar empowering techniques also. They are strong advocates for holistic living and are continually working to better themselves.

Its been a short but amazing ride so far – but I aim to take the group further. Our first social is coming up on the 30th June – the first of many. I have paired up with a life coach to discuss turning our vision into results. I also plan to start workshops on mindfullness and meditation so that holistic living can be practised.

Barriers women face

The barriers to women taking on senior roles and leading conferences or courses are complex.

Men do not seem to be giving women the same opportunities as other men. This is clear when I look at the lack of female representation at conferences or courses. There are certainly women that are successful and excellent teachers, but they are not given the same platform to speak. There does seem to be a “mens club” concept that is archaic in today’s progressive climate.

Fear is one of the biggest barriers women face, both in life and the workplace. From the fear of taking the risk of the better albeit demanding job, to the fear of standing out or being heard. The fear of feeling vulnerable. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of being successful.

Society also plays its part, from an early age, depicting women in a certain light – the pretty girl and the nurturing woman. Women that are beautiful, ambitious and strong are still not readily celebrated in mainstream culture.

To change a culture, and achieve equality in the workplace, some difficult conversations need to be had. It is through discussion, and calling out inequalities, I hope there will be greater appreciation of the challenges women face.

Women need to learn to reframe fear. With taking risks, women can begin to conquer new territories and lead. Instead of remaining hostage to fear, we may say to ourselves, wonderful things are going to happen to me, It’s a bold affirmation. It’s our vision for an empowered, liberated future.

Women also need to take risks and explore the possibility of leadership. Women need to dream big and be proud. Its a change in ones mindset but one that we ultimately have control over.

The future role models

I believe that we can create more female role models within the workplace by celebrating women more. We need to be invited to the table. Even uninvited, women need to take the risk to put their hand up more. Women need to lead conferences and courses. They may need to create the courses in the first place.

Teaching the next generation of girls is also vital. Self love, creating healthy boundaries, leadership and creativity are skills that can be fostered at school level. Why not invite therapists, councillors and life coaches to discuss these relevant topics and create a more holistic curriculum.

My role models within the workplace are the beautiful women that make up Empowering Women in Dentistry movement. As cheesy as that may sound, I just did not know female role models in dentistry. Outside dental, I look to Frida Kahlo, Brene Brown and Mayo Angelou as positive representations of female empowerment.

As the empowering women movement grows, I hope to continue promoting positive role models and build a community where comradery is strong. Lets make it an exciting time to be a woman.

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