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Breaking barriers for women panel discussion

In honor of Women’s History Month, A.T. Still University’s (ATSU) Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) department hosted a panel discussion in March titled, “Breaking Barriers for Women – Creating Paths for Future Leaders.” The panel consisted of Grishonda Branch-Mays, DDS, MS, professor, vice dean of academic affairs, ATSU-Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health (MOSDOH); Ann Lee Burch, PT, MPH, EdD, associate professor, dean of ATSU’s Arizona School of Health Science (ASHS); LaTricia Woods, MA, owner, Mahogany Xan Communications, LLC.

The discussion started with each panelist sharing their personal and unique experiences of breaking barriers throughout their careers.

“In dentistry, there are very few women who chair a department or are deans, there are very few who look like me. My first position as a chair, all of the faculty members in my department were all Caucasian men,” Dr. Branch-Mays said. “The barrier for me was being able to stand up at times and not being seen as too aggressive, but strong enough to lead. That is what I would say was one of the biggest barriers, of getting beyond that and valuing who I am first.”

Overcoming barriers of other people’s perceptions of energy levels and ambition was a common barrier panelist faced along the way.

“My sisters and I grew up learning that we could do anything we put our minds to. We were high-energy kids; my parents encouraged that energy. They encouraged thoughts of ambition; they encouraged this healthy competition between the three of us,” Dr. Burch said. “We learned that ambition, competition, and high energy were good things for women. Later, in my life, as I grew older, I found out that not everyone felt that way. But I think it is important as a woman to find out what you believe in very early on and then hold on to those beliefs.”

When you achieve your goals and finally have a seat at the table, Woods encourages women to not be afraid to stand firm when negotiating and not be afraid to ask for what you want and what you’re worth. 

“A barrier that I’ve had to overcome, that I think a lot of women have to overcome is, knowing your worth when it comes to negotiating salaries,” Woods said. “I know my first job as public information officer; I was so excited when I went through the process and they offered me the position and I took the first offer that they gave me. A while later, we were having a discussion and they said, ‘We really need to tell you that we would have paid you up to $10,000 more than what we offered you, but you didn’t ask.’”

Women working together to offer support and encouragement to each other is an integral piece of the puzzle. Creating a path for oneself does not have to be at the expense of creating a path for other women who follow. 

“There are barriers out there already, so we don’t need to continue to create barriers for ourselves. I think sometimes when we dream, when we set goals for ourselves, we talk ourselves out of what we want because we put self-imposed barriers on what we think we can achieve,” Woods said. “Just know that society is going to do that enough for you. Do not do that to yourself. If there is something that you want to do, if there is something you want to achieve, there are no barriers to doing that, other than the ones you put on yourself. Build your dreams without barriers, and while you’re doing that, find a way to create a path for others.”

Learn more about diversity and inclusion at ATSU by visiting atsu.edu/diversity.

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