October 10, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 35

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Breaking through the glass ceiling

graphic showing a cadeusus

It’s a brave new world at the cusp of a new century, and success can come to all who work hard, says a Health Science Center neurologist. But, is it a still a man’s world? Well, it depends on whose view is considered.

If it’s up to Dr. Robin Brey, the glass ceiling at the corporate level can still be encountered with success, but if a woman is unprepared to break through it, success can be hampered.

"There’s still a glass ceiling in many professions, but it’s not as bad as it used to be," said Dr. Brey, an associate professor in the Division of Neurology who addressed the "Young Women’s Conference 2000," attended by a couple hundred students, teachers and mothers and a few young men. "The conference is centered around being more goal oriented. In a lot of ways, women tend to have a style that’s less assertive than men."

Mentoring can be the best approach to educating young women on achieving success, said Dr. Brey.

"Young women have to think about a career strategically," said the mother of two. "You have to think about the goals you want to attain and take the steps to get there—seek a mentor, ask people for help and obtain information about different career opportunities."

And, mentors don’t have to be female, she said.

"Because most of the people in positions of authority right now are men, it follows that of the possible choices of whom to turn to for mentoring, many will be men," said the neurologist, who for more than 15 years has been actively involved in research, which includes basic science and clinical trials. "I’m fortunate to have mentors, here and at the NIH (National Institutes of Health), who look out for me and help me."

Her list of attributes in a mentor include:

  • Someone senior and well thought of in the field.

  • Someone with connections to help with employment or in obtaining grants.

  • Someone who has time to devote.

  • Someone truly interested in helping.

"You have to find a mentor who’s capable of putting your interests—instead of his or hers—forward. It should be someone who is willing to advise you," said Dr. Brey, who is the chairperson for the public and professional information committee of the American Academy of Neurology. "However, a good mentor should also provide you with criticism. He or she should be honest and objective."

She added, "You have to be able to take the criticism, if you want to move forward."

photo of Dr. Robin Brey
Dr. Robin Brey is the principal investigator of a major grant, from the National Institutes of Health, designed to improve scientists’ understanding of why the nervous system is often affected in patients with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. (Photo by Fernando Serna)

Her session at the Sept. 30 conference, "Women in Medicine: What a Career in Medicine is All About, How to Live a Balanced Life and How Not to Bump Your Head on the Glass Ceiling," was not about unfairness, perceived or otherwise. It was about placing an emphasis on success and the role women play in today’s society.

"Women continue to deal with balancing family and family responsibilities as well as working a full week," said Dr. Brey, who works in outpatient neurology clinics two half-days each week. "All of us have parents who are getting older. Just when the kids leave the house and the job of parenting becomes a little easier, the job of taking care of elderly parents may take its place."

Women, more than men, have to learn "how to focus on balancing a career and a family," said the associate professor, who teaches medical students and residents in both classroom and clinical settings. "Women think about their careers but they also tend to have more responsibility for keeping up with their family. I see men sharing more equally in this than ever before, however."

Dr. Brey’s "Women in Medicine" objectives covered:

  • Educational requirements needed to get into medical school.

  • Options available within a career in medicine.

  • The way of life of a medical student, intern or resident, or practicing physician.

  • The importance of personal priorities and active decision-making in living a "balanced" life in any profession, including medicine.

  • Learning strategies for setting and successfully achieving personal career goals.

Each session was a mixture of factual presentation using a computer slide show, question-and-answer exchange and group discussion. Dr. Brey, who serves as chairperson of the Medical Advisory Board for the South and Central Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America, also covered leadership and public service, which make a candidate more attractive to a medical school or even a college.

"I also presented the variety of career options that are available within a career in medicine, for example, private practice, pure research and teaching," said Dr. Brey, an editorial board member of the journals Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease and Stroke.

"Responsibilities and the choices you make are what your life is; people are not victims of circumstances. Everything we do is a choice based on the priorities we have, whether we realize it or not."

—Fernando Serna