International Women's Day: An interview with Dr. Ceril Rhys-Dillon, Consultant Rheumatologist
1. Can you name one woman who has inspired you (in your field or other) and why she inspired you?
There are many over the years, some you only truly realise their influence when you look back. Its apparent that many of my early subliminal role models were women. I’ll elaborate
My mother, had seven children (six were girls) and worked full time as a doctor, I thought nothing of this as a child, it was normal, women had a family and worked. She moved from medicine into TV in her 60s and still at the age of 82 has a weekly TV medical slot. This on a background of two working grandmothers, a teacher and a nurse. My primary education was a small rural school with two teachers both were female. I remember vividly my headmistress writing the name of Margaret Thatcher on the blackboard the day after she was elected prime minister. I have never looked up to or been inspired by Thatcher but it remains an important fact that a woman held this important role whilst I was in my formative years. I remember Indira Gandhi being elected also.
As a medical student, most of the Consultants were men but I distinctly remember one busy night on an Obstetric ward in Cambridge, where the odds are high for medical negligence, an obstetrician, Sarah Gull waltzing in and commanding such authority and respect that it struck me, I want to be like her. She had a family and a career and the respect of her team, something that had been less evident in the very male dominated medical world that was Cambridge.
Since then other women have inspired me but they need to be women with families for me to truly take note. Not because women have to have a family but because having a family is part of what makes achieving as a woman so much harder than a male counterpart. There are other barriers of course, such as prejudice and discrimination but these are not ones that have hindered me personally and so I pay less heed to them.
2. How/why did they inspire you?
They all illustrated how women can achieve and are equal to male counterparts.
3. What are your top tips to other women to succeed?
Never let anybody tell you cannot do something purely because you are female. Do not accept or ever tolerate exclusion based on your gender. If you suspect, witness or experience harassment, face it, deal with it and report it, every time. The same applies to men of course. Encourage others around you to do the same and lead by example.
As a house officer, my first job as a doctor, I remember an early ward round with the Professor, two other female juniors and two male middle grades. The Prof put his arm around me and rested his hand on my bottom whilst walking down a long corridor. “Prof X”, I said loudly, “kindly remove your hand from my bottom”, the others on the round were as shocked as he was and one of the juniors even told me later; “He does that to me too”. Evidently, he didn’t do it again. This sort of thing matters a lot and needs to be told as it still happens.
4. How do you celebrate successes, your own and those of others?
I celebrate success for male and female counterparts and do not distinguish between them. Equal status means equal status. I celebrate by informing others within the relevant field and increasingly on social media.
5. What do you do, in your organisation or outside, to inspire the next generation of female talent?
I try to lead by example. Medicine is not truly representative of the professions in this regard in that entry to medical school if anything has more women than men. Consultant workforce similarly is more evenly balanced apart from some surgical specialities where women remain under represented. The last 2 CEOs at my Trust (for the last 20yrs) have been women.
6. What wisdom would you have told your younger self, if you had the chance?
I experimented with higher heels for a brief period, as many of the other females in medicine did this. Big mistake. Also as a young consultant I bought some suits, another mistake. I should have stuck to my own instincts and worn what pleased me, not what I thought pleased others.
7. Are women-led events and discussion panels useful?
They may be for some but not for me. I want expertise on a panel whatever the gender. Ideally men and women equally represented but I wouldn’t give a role to a woman purely because of gender, I think this is a retrograde step. Women need to be appointed because they are as good or better. If a female viewpoint is needed then of course this is a different matter.
8. What is your advice to others to achieve a work / life balance?
Demand it. Play fair, if you leave early because of child commitments, be honest, be upfront and pay back the time. Transparency is of utmost importance. Do not feel the need to apologise, it is your right. Plan your working week fairly to suit your needs. Choose a partner who completely agrees with your way of sharing childcare. No point having strong views then ending up with a partner who expects dinner on the table and cannot change a nappy. Celebrate your role as a mother and a worker, they are both important.
9. How can an organisation encourage gender equality, inclusion and diversity?
No tolerance approach to discrimination. Actively encourage both genders to seek training, promotion. This applies to males in traditionally female dominated roles as well as LGBT, ethnic minorities etc. Encourage employees to not tolerate office gossip /conversation that has discriminatory tones.
10. What can we as individuals do to create a future of gender balance?
Be role models for the next generation, as a parent, friend, employee. Actively question why many sports clubs, dining societies, professional clubs still exclude women, or men for that matter. Ladies Days for example, how abhorrent are they? Just because something is traditional or historic doesn’t make it acceptable today.