Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day. For this very special occasion, we have interviewed three talented and inspiring women within the EBMT, Anna Sureda, EBMT President, Michelle Kenyon, EBMT Nurses Group President, and Claire Horgan, co-chair of the EBMT Trainee Committee, to discuss how they can forge equality for women in medicine and more specifically in the BMT community and what actions they are taking to raise awareness against bias.
Interview Anna Sureda, Michelle Kenyon, Claire Horgan
- Could you please introduce yourself?
Anna Sureda: My name is Anna Sureda, I am currently the Head of the Clinical Hematology Department and Cellular Therapy Program at the Institut Català d’Oncologia in Hospitalet, Barcelona, Spain, President-Elect of the EBMT, and President of the Spanish Society for Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy.
Michelle Kenyon: I’m a mother, I’m a nurse, a Consultant Nurse in BMT, I’m the current President of the EBMT Nurses Group and privileged to represent our transplant nursing community.
Claire Horgan: I’m a clinical research fellow in paediatric BMT, CAR-T and stem cell gene therapy at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Manchester, UK and, together with Dr Nico Gagelmann, co-chair and co-founder of the first EBMT trainee committee.
- Would you argue that career progression and academic recognition in medicine are more challenging for women? Could you share your experience with us?
Anna Sureda: I think this is the case. Medicine is a highly competitive university career; while medical schools are full of female students, the absence of female representation in those leadership positions that contribute to the decision-making process is very clear; this applies not only to clinical positions but also for research and academic positions. Multiple factors account for this situation; difficulties with work-life balance may be one of the key aspects but also, differences in the way that the concept of leadership is being understood by women and men can account for the rest. After having said that, it is important to recognise that ambitions, objectives and goals are not the same for every single woman but we should be able to say: “Yes …. We can …”. This is what I told myself many years ago and my professional career has tried to follow this concept.
Michelle Kenyon: As a nurse, I work in a profession where women make up the majority of the workforce. However, we function in an environment of medical traditionalism and even in 2022, this can be challenging for many nurses. In my role as a Consultant Nurse, a clinical academic role, the contribution that I, my CNS team make to patient care through research and service improvements is recognised by the multi-professional team I work in. However, it can be tough to balance all the demands and challenge the biases that are built up around nursing, and nursing careers especially those that follow a less traditional path.
Claire Horgan: I’m lucky enough to have worked with mentors and colleagues who have recognised people for their work above their gender or race, although have friends working in different locations and roles within medicine who have found this very challenging. It was just last week that one of my best friends, working in General Practice, had to say no to a career opportunity because she wouldn’t be entitled to any maternity pay which seems preposterous in 2022. There are definitely still challenges that women in medicine face, and I think it will be interesting to see how this evolves over the coming years. A few decades ago, UK medical schools were heavily male dominant, whereas now, and certainly in my year, the opposite is true. When my mum graduated from medical school in the 1980s and started working in her first post she was one of just 2 females working as first year junior doctors in her local hospital. This didn’t hold her back and she went on to have a successful career including spending time in senior leadership roles, including clinical director, as well as raising a family. Currently, when I look around, it seems that it is mainly men that make up the most high-powered and prestigious roles in medicine, but I hope this is a legacy of the past and will be something that I notice change throughout my career.
- Anna, in 2021, you were elected as the first female President-Elect of the EBMT. What does that mean to you?
Anna Sureda: I am extremely proud and honored to become the next President of the EBMT; extremely thankful to all those EBMT centers that thought that I could lead the society for the next four years and make it an even more successful one in spite of all the hurdles and challenges we have in front of us. I consider this election as a recognition for all the work being done in the past following the mission and vision of the society. But, in addition to that, I cannot hide how proud I am for being the third female president of our society; a big step forward in addition to others that have already been done to make our society more inclusive and diverse.
- Is it one of your presidency objectives to tackle the lack of women in leadership roles within the EBMT?
Anna Sureda: One of the aspects that will occupy a special position during my term as president of the EBMT will be the active dedication to the concept of equality, diversity and inclusion with the objective to embed it in all the different aspects of EBMT’s life. The absence of women in leadership positions seems to me one of the most obvious and easy to identify issues; the background behind that needs to be fully understood and measures to change this clear disbalance undertaken in a rational way.
Michelle Kenyon: I recognise the need to increase female representation in EBMT leadership roles – I believe that this can be self-fulfilling and by increasing the appeal of EBMT positions to women, this can lead to empowerment of women in less senior roles. Not all women need to be leaders to achieve success but those that aspire to be leaders should have equitable opportunities. EDI is an important part of the current EBMT strategy and I’m excited that we will get to a place where we are proud of our diversity, inclusivity and equity and the influence this will have on the culture of our EBMT society and beyond.
- You are a member of the EBMT Equality, Diversity and Equity Committee. What actions are you taking to elevate equity, activate diversity and incorporate inclusively at EBMT and in the broader BMT community?
Anna Sureda: The starting point of the EBMT Equality, Diversity and Equity Committee has been the recognition of how unbalanced the proportion of female and male representatives in the EBMT Board was and how inaccurately the EBMT Board was representing the EBMT membership, as well as the stem cell transplantation society. A better understanding of the problem is essential for the implementation of specific actions, which I’m convinced will be coming in the near future; it is our mission as a society to introduce some of them in our internal structure and functioning in order to contribute to a more global change that needs to be taken in our society.
Michelle Kenyon: We work hard through our education, communications, newsletters and social media to reach nursing colleagues across our global community. Most recently, our global education projects have enabled us to increase equity of access to nurse education; developing partnerships and supporting nursing developments in India and Latin America. We collaborate with other nursing societies such as ICN and EONS to bring other voices to our community. Our educational meetings include representation from different parts of our multi-professional and multi-cultural community and I am committed to raising the profile of the patient voice through increased collaboration with the EBMT PAC and other advocacy groups. I recognise that English as the language of EBMT can be a barrier to inclusivity for many nurses from our community and we are looking at ways we can improve this.
- How can you influence the younger generation of women physicians and nurses?
Anna Sureda: The best influence comes from daily life examples if one considers that these examples have to be followed. My main objective is to transmit to younger generations of female physicians that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is and should be an option in our EBMT society and that we need to work on these principles with the objective to improve them.
Michelle Kenyon: At the annual meeting, we will launch a brand-new role within the Nurses Group – our NG – Next Generation Nurse representative. This will be the first of a number of initiatives that focus on the needs of the younger members of our transplant nursing community, raising their voice, and helping us to influence and be influenced by them. Our younger members are our leaders of the future.
Claire Horgan: I think it’s important that the younger generation of female physicians and nurses realise that you can achieve whatever you want in your career as well as having the life you want outside of work, it doesn’t have to be a choice. I strongly believe that enjoying life outside of work makes you better at your job, particularly working in disciplines such as BMT where there are very hard and emotionally challenging days. It’s really important to be able to recognise this but also switch off at the end of a difficult day. I think people, especially women, can often be too self-critical and the constant dilemma of ‘mum guilt’ vs the guilt imposed by society for mums who have careers or work full time and/or have powerful roles is difficult, and something I’m well aware that I may face in years to come. I find it is sad when women feel they have to make choices and put pressure on themselves.
- This year's IWD campaign theme is “Break the Bias”. What inspires you?
Anna Sureda: Bias stands for preconception, prejudice, prepossession, partiality; these words should be deleted from our dictionary. Equality, diversity and inclusion are the ones that need to be included along with kindness and generosity. They are my inspiration for this year's IWD campaign; we need to Break the Bias having all these concepts in mind.
Michelle Kenyon: I’m inspired by diversity and difference. It makes us stronger by reflecting different views, experiences, and voices. IWD gives us the opportunity to celebrate but we need a gender equal world where difference is valued and celebrated everyday by everyone #BreakTheBias.
Claire Horgan: I’ve been brought up in a supportive family where we were always encouraged to work hard and believe we can achieve whatever we want to do. My grandparents all worked (my father’s parents were both doctors and mum’s parents were dentists); my mum was also a doctor so I don’t think I ever really contemplated that being a female might hold me back in any way. My sister is also a successful consultant geriatrician so I think it’s clear that my mum and female grandparents have been excellent role models for us.
I’m inspired every day by the team I work alongside, the people I’ve worked with in this role and previous roles who have given me the belief and confidence that I can achieve whatever I want, as well as the patients I’m lucky enough to work with. Celebrating the good times and sharing (as well as learning) through the challenging times makes us all better regardless of gender/ethnicity/age or life circumstances and should be something we all strive to do whether it be at work or at home.