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Dare to lead


On International Women’s Day, Dr Hana Morrissey, Reader in Clinical Pharmacy, blogs about what it means to be a female scientist.

My philosophy is that people are formed from a complex combination of our own make up, the environment we are exposed to from birth to the present (nature and nurture), and our inspiration to be the person we want to be.While we do not have control of our make up, or the environment we’re exposed to from birth through adulthood, we can influence our environment and use it to modify our advantages or limitations to be the person we want to be.

My first exposure to compassion, and scientific, innovative thinking, was through my mum. She was one of the first 50 women in Egypt to go to university in 1944 and was the first female librarian in 1948. My mum was appointed to the Western State library with a massive number of old books that she was tasked to manage, but also a budget to annually buy new books. It should have been a 10-person team, but she did it alone.

So, the need-fueled invention, she created her system, which was later adopted by all other State libraries. She made two cards for each book, one in an archive and one inside the book. Each book was also stamped with a serial number matched to the two cards. The card was removed when the book was borrowed and kept in the ‘out’ cabinet in dated slots, as well as recorded in a log as due back in seven days. On return, the returns page was marked in the log and the card returned to inside the book and it went back on the shelf. Simple, right? But not back then, and not for one person to achieve a library the size of our Chancellor’s Hall.

My sisters (now an ophthalmologist, an architect, and a horticulturist), and I, used to go and help during our summer school break when the new books arrived. That’s where we developed our love of books, we used to compete to see who would read the newest books every year. This was my first science and innovation lesson in life. About compassion, with all of this work that my mum had to do, she also created a daily coffee and chat lunch break; everyone in the directory (within the local government building) was invited. She used to say ‘sharing your worries with someone you trust halves the worry, and helps to manage stress’, my second lesson in life.

During my university years, Professor Cohen was my Clinical Pharmacy academic teacher. This was in 1980, clinical, case-based learning was not a known concept in pharmacist education. I still visualise those workshops to this day because I learned that just delivering information is shallow teaching with a shallow impact. However, when you mix this information with real-world cases and frame it with your own experience; the learning outcome is life-long, deep, and applicable to other situations.

I have worked in many settings as a pharmacist: community, primary care, outreach, hospital, in the Australian Army (Major), Head of Pharmacy in the Australian NSW state prisons/detention centres/police holding cells, and in academia – I have met many challenges, not just as a woman, but as a female migrant.

During my studies, the challenge was not this obvious, grades spoke louder than gender, but I felt it immediately after. There is a great disparity in the health services in gender balance in the workforce, i.e., more females than males, but more males than females in leadership roles, leading to (intentional or not) better career progression and remuneration.

In the military, at first, the physical tasks were a challenge as they were created with men in mind and an assumption that women would not be able to achieve them. Now, the culture has changed; the Australian defence joint health services are led by women for the third time in succession.

Lastly, in academia. I think the culture is still stuck in the recognition of achievement, career progression, pay, and leadership, but not in the workload. Women are expected to work harder to prove their ability, and even when they do, they are on many occasions overlooked in career progression when there is a male in the same category.

To achieve these senior positions, you should be a good leader, not just a boss; and it’s important to understand the difference. While I’ve completed many courses and read many books, my latest is my favourite; Dare to Lead by Berné Brown. I will close with some of her remarkable quotes.

  1. Time is our most coveted, most un-renewable resource. If being on the receiving end of one of life’s most valuable gifts fails to leave you with a lump in your throat or butterflies in your stomach, then you are not paying attention.

  2. Reward the question of ‘I do not know but I would like to find out.’

  3. Start from where people are and understand what is standing in the way.

  4. I have not met a brave person who has not known disappointment, failure, and even heartbreak.

  5. When you remove the threat, survival is not living, we need to belong, and this is not possible without vulnerability and integration.

  6. When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending. And when we do not own our stories of failure, setbacks and hurt, they own us.

  7. Ego is the inner hustler, the voice in the head which drives pretending, performing, pleasing, and perfecting. It craves acceptance and approval; it has no interest in wholeheartedness, just self-protection and admiration.

  8. When we are feeling on the edge, instead of asking ourselves “what’s the quickest way to make these feelings go away?” ask “what are these feelings and where did they come from?”

  9. Like most hurtful comments and passive-aggression, cynicism and sarcasm are bad in person and even worse when they travel through email or text. Criticism shifts the spotlight off us and onto someone or something else, and suddenly we feel safer.

  10. The most insidious in power over dynamics is that those who are powerless typically repeat the same behaviours when the tables are turned, and they are promoted into power.

Treat yourself as an equal, not less than anyone. Treat yourself as a capable human, not a delicate flower. Aim to have an attractive, interesting mind, not just be physically attractive. Be a leader and a team player, gain popularity because you are kind and intelligent not just funny or good-looking; because you can have all of this and be a fulfilled, happy person and be a successful scientist.

I like to think that I am these things for my beloved three daughters and my students and that I can inspire them, the way my mother did me.


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