Seeing leadership through two female leaders’ lenses in honor of Women’s History Month (Part 1) – New Dentist Blog

This January I had the honor to contribute to the ADA’s Accelerator Series on how to cultivate leadership skills through mentoring and coaching.  As female applicants continue to increase in dentistry, the leadership representation of women still lags behind.

Photo of Dr. Hung

Dr. Hung

In Linda Whelan’s book “Women Lead the Way,” she talked about the “30% solution” where 30% seems to be the magic number when a group of minority by number starts to make a difference. If we were to take a look at the ADA’s 2021 infographic “Increase Leadership Diversity, the ADA’s member diversity now has 33%, at the brink of the tipping point of making a difference. When we examine the diversity in leadership, women occupy 16% of seats in the ADA Board of Trustees, 47% in its councils and committees, 23% in the House of Delegates, and 24% in the New Dentist Committee. Good job to female new dentists in taking leadership roles approaching 50%, but women still need to occupy more seats at different leadership levels as well as continuing to increase the percentages of women in general membership in order to amplify our voices.

There is extensive research in social psychology, sociology, organizational psychology, and medicine on how socialization poses biases in how we perceive male and female leaders based on gender stereotypes. The traditional top-down, authoritative approach often does not work well for women. When women try to command like men, women often face social penalties: being isolated, disliked, or even despised by others. What is considered “assertive” in men can be considered “aggressive” in women. Currently, many leadership styles exist.  Positive organizational psychology adopting various positive leadership styles has been proven to improve productivity in corporations. Notably, authentic leadership style and transformational leadership style share many commonalities, and both have been shown to be advantageous to female leaders.

Dr. Feinberg

Authentic leadership stresses on “being true to yourself” when situationally appropriate. In other words, being transparent but not to a point of laying every emotion out.  Authentic leaders are true to themselves and also encourage followers to develop their true sense of self, utilizing strong personal values to lead. Transformational leaders inspire and motivate others to follow them by stimulating the followers’ intellectual capacity. These two leadership styles, along with other positive leadership styles, have been more popular over the traditional authoritative and transactional leadership styles.

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month this March, I would like to share excerpts of interviews from two outstanding female leaders in dentistry who exhibit both authentic and transformational leadership qualities. First, this week, here’s my interview with Dr. Maxine Feinberg, the third woman to hold office of ADA president in 2014-15, and, next week, I’ll share my discussion with Dr. Robin Gallerdi, the president of the south suburban branch of Chicago Dental Society, to share their views on leadership.

Dr. Maxine Feinberg is a New Jersey-based periodontist who graduated from New York University College of Dentistry. She is a fellow in the American College of Dentists, the International College of Dentists and the Pierre Fauchard Academy. She was the first woman to serve as president of the New Jersey Dental Association in its 150-year history and remains active in both her component dental society and the NJDA. During my time serving the NJDA Social Media Task Force last year, I conducted this interview with Dr. Feinberg in celebration of International Women’s Day. Here is Dr. Feinberg’s pearls of wisdom:

Q: What can dentistry as a profession do to help support women dentists?

Dr. Feinberg: One of the problems facing women dentists is that they are only earning 60 cents on the dollar compared to their male colleagues. I think it’s incumbent upon us to educate the young women who are graduating from dental school to value their worth, to value their talent and not to tolerate this. We have to help educate women in terms of their self-worth.  Give them leadership training, and really encourage them to ask for comparable pay and comparable benefits as their male colleagues.

Q: What are your thoughts on diversity leadership?

Dr. Feinberg: People believe that the lack of diversity is just going to fix itself. I believe that you need to go out and seek future leaders and mentor them and tell them that you need them to step up to the plate and participate because the profession as a whole is suffering from the lack of participation. So I actually think this is the time to go out and recruit women, people from underserved minorities, because we need them.  We need their voices at the table, we need to hear their concerns, but more importantly, we need them to take leadership roles because the profession is going to have a terrible time in 20 years if we don’t get more women and people from underrepresented minorities involved in leadership positions. This is why I think leadership training is so important. I definitely feel that the ADA did a great job with diversity in the Institute for Diversity in Leadership. It doesn’t take that much in terms of resources. It just takes the will to do something, because the volunteers are there and they’re willing to help. I don’t think that it requires enormous amounts of money. I think you can be innovative in ways that you bring in people who will gladly speak to the leadership group.

It took me 30 years to get here. Millennials don’t want to waste their time, taking 30 years to go up to chair that component dental society. They want to do things that have value and meaning to them now. There are lots of projects and short term commitments. Now with Zoom, it opened up a whole new layer of availability. If you help educate people on the technology and help to make it easy for them, it will be easier for us to move forward, and I am totally in favor of that.

Q: What will be one message that you have for female dentists in celebration of International Women’s Day?

Dr. Feinberg: Be proud of the contributions we make to the health and well-being of our patients and the success of our profession. We should be singing a song of praise because we contribute greatly to the entire profession of dentistry. We have done so much to help improve the overall health of our patients so I think we should celebrate this.

Dr. Cathy Hung is an AAOMS Fellow with a solo practice in New Jersey.  She is an alumna of ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership program and an author, speaker and coach on cultural competency and women leadership. Her first book “Pulling Wisdom: filling the gaps in cross-cultural communication” is currently available in the ADA bookstore as a practice management tool. She recently published her second book, “Behind Her Scalpel: a practical guide in oral and maxillofacial surgery and stories by female surgeons”, an IDL project in hope to close the gender gap. She is a certified professional life coach of Pulling Wisdom Coaching and Workshops, LLC to help women and/or minorities professionals with struggles to gain confidence and excel in the professional world. She was recognized by Benco Dental as one of the Lucy Hobb’s Project’s “Women who inspire” in 2020.


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