I recently answered a survey about race. One question asked:
“If you ask to speak to the leader of your organization, can you expect to see someone of your race?”
I snorted. I didn’t mean to. I just had never thought about that before.
In my previous job my title[1. As I have noted elsewhere, “titles, at the end of the day, are just words.“] was “medical director”. During the first few months of that job the title felt alien to me. It was as if people at work said, “Oh, Dr. Yang? She’s the one over there with the blonde hair.” Meanwhile, I’d touch my black locks, feeling perplexed.
Early on I conducted interviews to hire staff. One applicant, a psychiatrist, was a Caucasian man in his early 50s. His greying brown hair was cropped close to his head. A striped burgundy necktie adorned the light blue dress shirt underneath his navy blue suit. Cuff links poked out from under his sleeves. A silver pen was clipped into the breast pocket of his jacket.
Turning to the program manager, I murmured, “THAT guy looks like a medical director, not me!”
She, a Caucasian woman, laughed before she said, “Yeah, you’re right!”
In the jobs I’ve held the medical directors have all been Caucasian males, with the exception of my first job: He was Asian. In residency training the chair of the department was a Caucasian male. The paintings and photographs of leadership that lined the halls of the medical school were all of aging Caucasian men.
That’s how I came to learn that medical directors don’t look like me; they’re older white men.
Leadership at this agency believed I had sufficient qualifications and hired me, an Asian female, to serve as the medical director. However, the idea that someone in this position “should” be an older white male persisted in my mind.
What does it mean that I felt doubts about my ability to work as a medical director simply because of the way I look?[2. While this post is focused on race, it could easily focus on sex, too: Most medical directors are men.]