Women have made tremendous progress in society, but there is still a long way to go. It’s therefore essential that women combine their knowledge, strength and ideas to help push forward the gender equality movement.
An interview with Helen Chiao,
Endodontist, DMD, MMSC
Liberty Endodontics, Hartsdale, NY, USA
You’ve found success as an Endodontist*, which is usually more of a “guy thing.” What were some of the challenges that you faced and had to overcome in order to get there, specifically being a woman?
During my time at Harvard, my incoming endodontics residency class was about a half female, so I did not feel out of place. However, when we would attend national meetings, we all noticed that there was a “sea of bald heads” in all of the lecture halls and that generations before us were seemingly more than 90% male practitioners. Many previous older colleagues admitted to me that they “didn’t want to waste a good spot to a female who would just get pregnant and quit.”
Growing up, I was encouraged to do and become anything I wanted, so I wasn’t prepared for some of the negative comments by colleagues who were more traditionalist in their thinking about females’ roles in society. Since graduating from Harvard, I started my first endodontic practice in the greater Seattle area, built-it up in five years, sold it, then moved on to my second start-up in New York. If I believed what I was told about women and their perceived limitations about marriage, baby and work, I would not be where I am today. Believe in yourself!
*An Endodontist is a dental specialist who saves natural teeth by root canal treatments. Endodontists receive 2-3 years of additional residency training after four years of dental school.
It’s been almost a century since women were given the right to vote in America – what else do you think can be done to make women feel as equal to others in society?
Voting rights are only part of the equality movement. What we need is better access for young ladies to have a seat at the table of corporate American leadership. This will require young girls to be exposed to all areas of starting, operating and managing a business to plant seeds of interest in the business world by showing what other options are available to them in the workforce. Since we live in a capitalist society, big corporations still have a huge impact on national policy, cultural trends and economics, which is part-and-parcel to voting rights. Most big companies are involved in American politics by either donating and or lobbying for new laws, protecting existing ones and/or blocking potential future laws to protect their business interests. By being involved in big business at the executive level, one can help shape American politics.
There are still very few women in leadership roles at the corporate executive level in America. Out of all the Fortune 500 CEO’s, women take up a sliver of that pie. It’s time to increase women’s opportunities to network. This can be done by ‘shadowing’ interviews, conferences, and other creative events that can expose young girls to the business world. High-level executives (i.e. C-suite and management leaders) from big corporations (both male and female), who are willing to mentor youth and create programs for young ladies, can help normalize women’s leadership roles in corporate America for the next generation of leaders.
What would you recommend to young girls experiencing sexist comments, or gender inequality for the first time, so they don’t feel ashamed or held back?
Most of these comments arise because the other party, whether male or female, is either threatened by your achievements, talent and or success. When you break it down, it really has very little to do with only gender comparisons. Being aware of this will help you to ignore negative comments. Have confidence in yourself and abilities.
Tips and tricks:
- Don’t be trapped by other’s opinions
- Don’t believe in stereotypes
- Always believe in yourself and your abilities