Conversations with leading women in dentistry series: Q&A with the Women in Dentistry Project experts
FDI interviewed the Women in Dentistry Project experts, five outstanding leaders in dentistry: Dr Jina Lee Linton, Dr Kinga Grzech-Lesniak, Dr Wendy Thompson, Dr Irene Marron-Tarazzi, and Dr Juliane von Hoyningen-Heune. Each woman has had her own unique career path, shaped by success, challenge, and support from mentors and role models. Read on for their own perspectives on what it means to be a ‘woman in dentistry’ today.
Jina, Kinga: Tell us about the FDI Women in Dentistry Project. Why was it established? What are the goals of the Project experts?
Jina: Gender equality is an issue which does not get resolved naturally with time but requires our conscious effort each day. FDI, as a key representative of the dental profession, organized the Women in Dentistry Project to proactively address gender equality in dentistry and provide a higher professional standard for both men and women in dentistry.
Kinga: The Project was established to engage, stimulate and inspire all female oral health professionals by providing support to other women in the field of dentistry—by sharing our experience, comparing procedures from different countries and spreading our knowledge through courses or collaborative research. In some countries, it’s harder to gain access to such knowledge, research or protocols—hence the need to share internationally. It is important to highlight the achievements of inspiring women in dentistry from all around the world. We can bring innovation and positive changes together. It is a team of women trying to lift other women up!
Wendy, Kinga: What lessons and experiences can you share as a female leader in dentistry?
Wendy: Imposter syndrome gets us all sometimes. Be confident to offer to be part of something which interests you – in that way opportunities often arise. If you’ve been invited to do something, be confident to say ‘Yes – I can do that.’ Be easy to work with.
Kinga: I think that the biggest lesson I can share with other women is to have a broader approach in your practice and to try to work across disciplines. Try to work with more empathy and master patience, scrupulousness, and positive thinking. Always remember that it’s never too late to learn new things. Focus on the potential of what you can share with others and turn your challenges into opportunities. The hardships we face make us stronger, more creative and—as strange as it may sound—more positive. Now, after 20 years into my career, which I desperately love, I still feel inspired, motivated, and challenged every day.
Juliane, Irene: Who were your biggest inspirations throughout your career?
Juliane: My biggest inspiration is Dr Michele Aerden, the first-ever woman president of FDI and honorary president of Women Dentists Worldwide (WDW). At my first FDI congress in Stockholm 2008 (one year after my graduation), I saw her lecturing in the WDW forum and I was so impressed by her spirit, her power and what she was able to achieve. It was a hard phase of my life back then, and I was a bit lost. Today, I am proud to say that she is my mentor. I can always ask her for advice. Another woman in dentistry who inspired me a lot is my mom. She owns her own dental laboratory and managed so much as a single mother on her own.
Irene: My first inspiration was my mother. She was a general dentist in Venezuela (now retired), and she used to teach operative dentistry and got involved in organized dentistry throughout her career. She showed me how wonderful dentistry is, especially for women who also want to have a family. She taught me that you can take on hard problems and do hard things.
Irene, Juliane: How do you engage with and empower others in the dentistry field?
Irene: During my tenure as vice president of the American Dental Association, I traveled around the nation speaking to groups of women about leadership, empowerment, and how to climb the ladder in a male-dominated environment. I reminded the women I met to follow their passions and be willing to help others along the way. Currently, I provide mentorship to dental students and residents one-on-one and through social media, which is a great platform to keep us connected and engaged. I’m also a board member of WDW, which is a great community that provides support and continuing education and also offers us a space where we can learn from one another.
Juliane: I do my best to build the networks women need to move forward. For whatever task we have, there should be a person we can ask for advice or help, and not just men—also women. Role models should be more available to younger women, so that they can be inspired for their own life path. This is why we need to push women into the spotlight: on stage, in magazines, on executive boards and other leadership positions.
Kinga, Wendy: What’s the greatest career risk you’ve ever taken?
Kinga: I think the biggest career risk I have ever taken was funding my first research from my own pocket just to gain more knowledge and experience. Almost as equally risky was starting my own practice while simultaneously doing my specialization in periodontics—and all that while taking care of my 5-year-old daughter. I guess I could say that I take risks every day. In the end, no risk means no reward.
Wendy: Leaving a well-paid, salaried job in the civil service to train as a dentist whilst I had a daughter in primary school.
Jina: What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career in dentistry?
Jina: Raising three children was the biggest challenge during my career. I felt like I couldn’t afford to give enough time and attention to them when they were young. At the same time, it was a challenge to stay afloat in the fast-changing dental profession. Most women dentists face challenges at home and at work.
Everyone: What is your advice for the next generation of young women oral health professionals? In other words, if you look back, what three pieces of advice do you have for your younger self?
Jina: Get involved in academic and social groups. Always be an active member of a women’s group. The glass ceiling opens up when we shout together.
Juliane: Specialize, but not too early. Be sure you know enough about general dentistry before you go into detail. Choose your specialization wisely. Be yourself. Be a woman, not a better man. Take responsibility for your patients, the dental community, and society. Nobody is perfect: accept the situation as it is without giving up the will to change for the better.
Kinga: Be a bit more humble at the beginning of your career and have more courage after a few years in the field. Never stop learning—gaining knowledge and experience will always pay off. Never give up—it takes hard work to be successful, but all that hard work pays off in the end.
Wendy: Be easy to work with. Say yes to opportunities offered—people tend not to ask twice. Be confident that you can do the job just as well as anyone else.
Irene: Find a mentor. Until recently, I only had male mentors throughout my career in organized dentistry. Now I recognize the need for a female mentor and would have LOVED to have had a female mentor by my side all these years. I do believe that because women have so many more responsibilities and are often so busy, we forget how valuable mentorship is for others. This is my message to our younger generation and students: don’t be afraid to approach us. Don’t wait for someone to pick you as a mentee. We are here for you!