International Women’s Day

Global AO CMF Women Surgeons Group advances the dialogue around gender equality

02 March 2021

Sabine Girod

Dr Sabine Girod’s credentials as a craniomaxillofacial surgeon, researcher, and educator set her apart from the crowd, but when International Women’s Day rolls around on March 8, 2021, she will be doing the same thing as 1.3 billion other women around the world: working. That work includes empowering female colleagues through the AO CMF Women Surgeons Group.

Girod, chair of the AO CMF Community Development Commission and an emeritus professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Stanford University Medical Center (Stanford, California, United States), recalls all too well being the subject of unconscious bias and microaggressions. And she is determined to advance the discussion of gender equality: she drove the establishment of the global AO CMF Women Surgeons Group (currently hosted on Facebook)—led by the AO CMF Women Ambassadors—three years ago and describes it as a forum offering mentorship, a safe space to discuss challenges, and educational opportunities to AO CMF’s female members.

“Why do we have to have International Women’s Day? There are still a lot of people who are unconsciously biased, and it requires a cultural change. That is what we’re working on: getting women on the roster and making sure that everybody understands how everyone—including women—are unconsciously biased against women in leadership,” explains Girod, who is a faculty affiliate with Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

Pivot points

One of the pivot points in Girod’s career was meeting a female maxillofacial surgeon who inspired and mentored her.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds interesting. This is something I could do,’” she recalls.

At the same time, when she applied for a CMF training program, she was told, “I don’t have a position for a woman right now and I don’t want to have a woman’s playground in my clinic. You have to wait until the next woman’s slot becomes available”.

But her perseverance paid off.

“I did eventually get a job in that clinic and became a resident there. It was the best education I ever got. I really was supported like everyone else in that training program,” Girod says.

She went on to become the first woman in west Germany to win the German Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery’s annual Martin Wassmund Prize, the organization’s highest prize for outstanding scientific achievement—but she still faced inequality. With that acclaim, a number of publications, and three grants from the German science foundation under her belt, five years into her career she applied for a professorship, only to have her application returned without review, along with the clear message, “We don’t want anyone with your profile”—shorthand for “You’re a woman.”

So Girod took her expertise to Stanford, where she has served as chief of the Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Service, as director of the Stanford Plastic Surgery Adult Clinic, and a member of Stanford Hospital & Clinics Advisory Council and Committee for Professionalism. Additionally, she has chaired the Stanford School of Medicine Faculty Senate.

Making things better

Girod understands that much of the bias encountered is unconscious and believes that dialogue is an important first step toward breaking down the barriers women face. Advocacy, mentorship, and education are also important components. In addition to offering female AO CMF members these supportive elements, the group advocates for its female members to be included as panelists at congresses and other events where women are often disproportionately underrepresented.

“I would like to make things better for the younger generation of CMF colleagues. There are many more women in CMF surgery today than when I was in school and beginning my career, but we do still have a long way to go,” says Girod.


An automatic ‘yes’

Fully aligned with AO Access —the AO’s diversity and inclusion initiative—and AO President Robert McGuire’s passion for mentorship , the AO CMF Women Surgeons Group today has 391 members from around the world and is led by the 21-member AO CMF Women Ambassadors. Members say the group empowers them by providing a unique and valuable platform for interaction.

 

 

AO CMF Middle East and Northern Africa Board member Zein Goussous from Amman, Jordan, jumped at the chance to be part of the group.

“When Sabine Girod came up with this amazing initiative, it was an automatic ‘yes’ for me,” she says. “Being a woman in surgery, especially maxillofacial surgery, is a challenge in itself. An added challenge was the fact that there are very few women surgeons in my region so being accepted and trusted by can take some time [in this] overwhelmingly male-dominated field. The camaraderie and support that come from this group are priceless. In addition, the caliber of valuable knowledge and skills gained only helps to raise the standard of care received by patients when applied.”

Patricia Radaic describes how she has benefitted from the AO Women Surgeon’s Group.

“I can say that my visibility has increased with lectures mainly in the Latin American market, my mentoring with some students from several countries has increased, as well as the exchange of experience with experienced surgeons from countries such as Colombia, Argentina, Netherlands, Mexico, and Spain,” says Radaic, a professor and oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Sirio-Libanes Hospital and a clinical coordinator of the AO CMF Fellowship Host Center at Hospital Beneficencia Portuguesa/Instituto Vita in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. “[It is] an honor to be part of this group.”

Marvis Allais, a surgeon and professor in Venezuela, also gives the group high marks.

“I love that we have an exclusive space, so that we can get to know each other more easily and share experiences,” adds Allais, a surgeon and professor in Venezuela.

CMF surgeon Lynne Fryer, who practices in southwest England, joined the group because she is eager to raise the profile of women generally and in the AO in particular.

“There are many conscious and unconscious biases which affect women and it is important to have a forum for discussion,” Fryer says. “The AO CMF Women Surgeons Group has increased my network of women who understand, are supportive, and have become good friends. The great thing is the network, which supports our efforts to improve the quality of care for our patients and the education of our trainee surgeons.”


Upcoming events

  • SPECIAL EVENT: International Women's Day for Everyone—Meet, Greet and Learn Together, March 08, 2021 at 17:00 Central European Time

  • Patient-specific implants for craniomaxillofacial defects: challenges and solutions with Neha Sharma on April 15
  • Update in virtual planning in orthognathic surgery with Patricia Stoor on May 13
  • Acquired temporomandibular (TMJ) disorders in infants, children, and adolescents with Marta Redondo on June 17

The AO CMF Women Surgeons Group so far has conducted 13 events on various topics ranging from clinical cases to leadership, diversity, and inclusion.

To learn more about upcoming events, please visit: aocmf.aofoundation.org/education/online-campus 



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