Every International Women’s Day, the world commemorates the strength, resilience, and contributions of women around the globe. This year, as we unite under the banner of “Inspiring Inclusion”, we shine the spotlight on some of our very own – the women of Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed), who tirelessly inspire inclusion each and every day. 

[Alina Amin, IT Manager]

Challenges Women Face 

Let me share an excerpt from the Barbie movie that underscores the complexities and contradictions a woman faces:

“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough… we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.” 

Leading in a Male-dominated Realm
Navigating challenges and fostering success requires a combination of confidence, resilience, and strategic approach. Clear and assertive communication is crucial. As I am new to the education sector, I would communicate my ideas, goals, and expectations openly to ensure that my voice is heard and valued. 

Importance of a Welcoming Environment

Recognising challenges without dwelling on them is essential for a supportive work environment that promotes success. When I was pregnant with my first child and having difficulties lifting the computer CPUs, I was able to reassign my focus to desktop work, which helped my (otherwise all-male) team to focus on improving our standard operating procedure and service. This resulted in an increase in the department’s customer satisfaction index. 

Promoting Visibility

Data from Statista reveals that women made up 48% of the Silicon Valley workforce in 2020. It is important to let women and girls, especially those interested in STEM fields, know that they have a future in these industries.

[Associate Professor Dr Kye Mon Min Swe, Associate Professor of Education Research]

Nurturing Empowerment

Inspiring inclusion is about creating an environment where every individual feels valued, respected, and empowered. I aim to promote diversity and create inclusive working or learning environments where everybody is comfortable expressing themselves. I continuously engage in professional development to enhance my cultural competency and sensitivity, ensuring that I am equipped to address the needs of all learners and create an inclusive educational experience for all. 

Strength in Diversity

Our staff members represent diverse backgrounds and perspectives with differences in experiences and expertise. Each team member has equal opportunities to contribute unique insights, regardless of their background or position within the organisation. As a result, we achieve our objectives and demonstrate the strength derived from embracing diversity and nurturing an inclusive environment. 

Path to Full Potential

Professionally, inclusion cultivates a sense of belonging and confidence, which creates a supportive environment, where women can excel and have greater success in their careers. Personally, it enables women to express themselves and pursue their passions and personal goals. It breaks down barriers and creates environments where all individuals can reach their full potential.

Navigating Challenges

As a working mother, clinician and academician taking on numerous roles, my journey has been shaped by various challenges; yet it is also marked by resilience and determination. Balancing professional responsibilities with personal commitments often pose a challenge, requiring careful prioritisation and time management. However, I have learnt to overcome these obstacles by cultivating self-confidence and seeking mentorship and support networks. By embracing my strengths, challenging societal norms, and continually learning and growing, I strive to create a positive impact and inspire others. 

[Norasikin Darsono, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead]

Upholding Diverse Perspectives 

I actively encourage open dialogue among my team and colleagues to facilitate honest exchanges of ideas, concerns, and suggestions. I believe that by promoting active dialogue, everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and experiences. This not only empowers everyone, but also encourages diverse perspectives, which can lead to a more inclusive and productive environment. 

Boosting Women’s Self-Worth

An inclusive environment can boost women’s confidence and self-esteem, where they feel included and valued. Things like being recognised for their contributions and having their voices heard can enhance their sense of self-worth and empower them to take on new challenges and opportunities. Inclusive workplaces that promote work-life balance and employee wellbeing via initiatives like family-friendly policies, flexible work arrangements, and a culture of understanding, enable women to effectively manage their professional responsibilities alongside their personal commitments. 

Uplifted by Assumptions
Thankfully, I was surrounded by people who are supportive and always willing to assist me on my career path. However, I have experienced situations where people judged me based on my family background, not my achievements. Not hailing from a privileged background often leads to assumptions that our potential is limited, with the expectations that we are not able to pursue higher education or ambitious career goals. These assumptions motivate me to do better, to prove to them that anyone can achieve success in their life. I work hard, take all the opportunities that come my way, and focus on my personal and career growth. 

Championing Self-Belief 

Believe in yourself. Have confidence in your abilities, and always believe that you deserve to be where you are. Most importantly, never stop learning! 

[Associate Professor Dr Madihah Rushaidhi, Dean of Biomedical Sciences] 

The Power of Inclusion

When I initially joined NUMed, my line manager demonstrated unwavering confidence in my abilities, providing me with opportunities to grow my career. This inclusive atmosphere I experienced instilled a sense of confidence in me, empowering me to pursue my goals. When I became a parent to a child with a rare genetic condition known as Cardio-Facio-Cutaneous Syndrome, I found myself under the guidance of another supportive line manager. This experience further exemplified the strength of support and inclusivity, especially during the challenging times. Throughout these trials, I never felt isolated or unsupported. The inclusive environment provided me with the necessary encouragement to advance to my current role as the Dean of Biomedical Sciences. This journey stands as a testament to how fostering inclusivity for women can empower them to overcome obstacles and fears, enabling them to achieve remarkable success in their endeavours.

Balancing Personal and Professional Responsibilities

As a mother of four children, one of whom has special needs, a devoted wife, and the eldest sibling in my family, I bear significant familial responsibilities. In my professional capacity, I serve as the Dean leading a programme and actively participate in academic associations such as the Malaysian Anatomical Association. Balancing these roles entails managing substantial commitments. However, the unwavering support from my workplace management has been instrumental in providing me with the strength to persevere. Maintaining a positive mindset and a diligent work ethic, I approach each obstacle with resilience and determination, and consistently strive to overcome challenges and setbacks, emerging stronger with each experience.

Embracing Unique Dynamics

Despite progress towards gender equality, women in education may encounter obstacles such as limited representation in leadership roles, wage disparities, and expectations related to work-life balance. However, being a woman in education also presents opportunities to inspire, empower, and advocate for change. Women educators can serve as role models for students, challenge stereotypes, and promote inclusivity in learning environments. They bring diverse perspectives, empathy, and nurturing qualities to their roles, contributing to the holistic development of learners.

Sources of Inspiration

Numerous Malaysian women inspire me with their significant contributions across diverse fields, breaking barriers, shattering stereotypes, and paving the way for future generations through resilience, achievements, and leadership. For instance, Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Malaysia’s first female Central Bank Governor, showcased expertise in economics and finance, steering the financial sector through challenges with local and international recognition. Similarly, Datuk Nicol David, a former world number one squash player, exemplified dedication, skill, and sportsmanship, inspiring young athletes to excel. These remarkable women in Malaysia serve as sources of inspiration, encouraging women and girls nationwide to dream big, break boundaries, and strive for excellence.

[Prof. Dr. Vishna Devi Nadarajah, Provost and Chief Executive Officer] 

Empowerment with Education 

Education needs to be inclusive as it is important for social mobility. Without access to education, families or communities can be stuck in a vicious cycle. This is because it will be very difficult to improve socioeconomic or health outcomes from one generation to another. Studies have repeatedly shown that when women are educated, there is a higher chance that their sons and daughters are educated too. This means that the virtuous cycle of social mobility happens; there is upward movement and improvements in socio economic and health outcomes from one generation to another. To inspire inclusion, one needs to role-model it. As an educator, I need to be aware of my surroundings and provide opportunities for my peers or students to engage and feel that their voices are heard.

Inclusion in Healthcare
Through the lens of medical students, inclusion is fundamental in their journey towards competent practice and professional identity formation. Through the lens of junior doctors, inclusion means being empowered to actively contribute to quality improvement efforts in health systems and health professions education (HPE). To educators, inclusion should be bidirectional – teachers to learners and learners to teachers with the aim to promote transformative rather than informative learning environments. For HPE leadership, inclusion should be embedded in HPE organisational culture and values, leadership selection, training, and initiatives. When professionals are included in social interactions, they feel valued, respected, and a sense of pride in joining the conversation. For some, it means having wider access to opportunities, and most importantly, having a voice in the community and being able to contribute to the field and society.

Being Enabled by Being Heard

Just assembling a team of individuals who look different from one another doesn’t mean that the inclusive box is ticked. Instead, provide opportunities for these individuals to engage, let their voices and opinions be heard and discussed, and value the diversity in the room. This is the true power of inclusion and I have seen it when working well for various teams across health professionals and educators.

Spreading Inclusion

The power of inclusion can motivate women to try new things, get feedback on their ideas (as their voice is heard), and develop others based on their experiences. Make inclusion contagious. When you are included, your voice is heard. You feel valued, spread it and do it to others too.

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