Women leaders in radiology can gain trust, influence through emotional intelligence

In a column published online Sept. 17 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, Cheri L. Canon, MD, with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, said diversity in leadership can improve flexibility and allow for more dynamic solutions.

“[T]he complexity of our radiology practices is benefited by diverse teams that help support this nimble leadership,” Canon wrote. “This diversity provides differing experiences and perspectives to solve complex problems.”

Still, individual women in radiology face challenges in leadership roles. While some offer simple, everyday solutions like assuming the “Super Woman” power pose before a meeting to increase confidence and reduce anxiety, is that enough? What other obstacles to women face in a traditionally male-dominant field such as radiology?

Fearless, Not Foolish

Business speak often invokes language of war—with leaders expected to “rally the troops” or “boost morale” among coworkers. Similarly, leaders are expected to be fearless, but this isn’t quite accurate. Someone who does not fear anything can be arrogant or unaware of danger.

“You … must learn to manage through fear, not ignore and definitely not avoid that which you fear,” Canon wrote. “Understanding our triggers and fears and then perceiving triggers and fears in those around us in an empathetic way builds trust.”

Prepare and Plan

Canon cites a female mentor who argued how men and women, in general senses, approach meetings in different ways. Men will cover important points and do the legwork necessary to ensure support from attendees before the meeting, so what happens in the board room usually goes as expected. Women, however, use the time in the same room to discuss key issues, hoping to drive the group to an intended decision.

“Does that we change our behavior to comply with the system? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em mentality?” Canon asked. “Perhaps. Or rather engage in developing relationships with our male colleagues and participate in these important pre-meeting dialogues. These relationships build trust.”

Battling Bias

Implicit biases—from all business leaders, not just women—can impact decision making and personal conduct. But gender bias is one specific area of concern when expressed by both men and women. Newer terms such as “mansplaining” have become common descriptions of one kind of behavior.

Women, faced with a choice of sticking up for themselves or remaining quiet and agreeable, are stuck in a bit of a conundrum.

“Like everything, it is a balance, and the key driver of that balance is emotional intelligence,” Canon wrote. “Most men are not explicitly biased against women, and we must remember that implicit bias is just that, a subconscious hard wiring of perceptions based upon experiences as early as childhood.

“This does not imply men have a license for biased behavior because they cannot help it. Rather, women, in walking this rope, can engage male colleagues in a partnership.”

Being emotionally aware and reactive to subtle social clues, women can develop leadership skills to succeed in healthcare.

“Emotional intelligence is not about being nice; it is about being perceptive and taking the time to understand what drives those around you,” Canon wrote. “And as women, we can leverage emotional competency to even the playing field and achieve success.”