Emelia Masari had the privilege of speaking with Dayeon Lee, the director of WiHN, a NGO and also a group at University.
What inspired you to start Women in Health Network?
I think this could be broken up into two broad factors.
Firstly, the current state of the health sector. As my friends and I studied our health degrees and some of us began our careers, we were increasingly exposed to the very real gender disparities within the health sector. Research and first-hand experience taught me that this largely women-dominated sector still has prominent inequalities in the form of pay gaps, uneven opportunities for advancement, and unbalanced representation in leadership and decision-making that negatively impact on societal equity and health sector efficiency. This is bad for not only women health professionals and women as a whole, but for the New Zealand health system and the health of kiwis in a general sense.
Secondly, what really shaped WiHN was a bit more personal. Last year I worked with a foundation that addresses underachievement in education of a large minority of disadvantaged youth. I built a pretty special relationship with three highly intelligent, generous young girls. They were top students with the academic makings to do really well in the competitive health degrees they were wanting to pursue. It devastated me that some other factors beyond their control would work against their self-confidence and success. For example, limited life experience due to having grown up in an insular community and the consequent reduced access to beneficial resources that, say, I had in relative abundance in being a kid from the North Shore who went to a high decile school and was constantly being offered new opportunities.
What is WiHN about and what do you do?
WiHN nurtures the next generation of women health professionals in New Zealand.
Through mentoring and networking opportunities, WiHN fosters a network of wahine working across the health sector to ensure everyone can have a fair and fulfilling experience in improving the health outcomes of New Zealanders.
WiHN runs two programmes:
- WiHN Mentoring Programme – providing support to first year women studying health related degrees from more experienced women within their intended specialties (Health Sciences, Nursing, Medicine, Optometry and Pharmacy); and
- WiHN Events Programme – a variety of workshops, guest speaker events, and networking opportunities throughout the year.
Underpinning all WiHN endeavours is a focus on reducing inequities. We recognise that women face greater barriers to having a fulfilling experience working within the health sector, which are exacerbated when gender intersects with other social categorisations such as socioeconomic status. We understand that women start the race from different positions at different times and want to do what we can to support everyone in getting to the starting line together to have a fair competition. WiHN notes that some women will face greater impediments to getting to a computer to sign up to university, transport to attend classes, money to buy laboratory equipment, time to study, confidence to apply for jobs.
The diversity present within the health workforce, across and within all genders and throughout the multitude of social categorisations out there, is what makes our health sector strong. It means people from different walks of life with unique experiences, attitudes and talents can propose innovative solutions to health issues, sub-in for the weaknesses of others and enhance the productivity of our system overall. Although we’re just starting up so we have to be realistic about our reach and current limitations, ultimately WiHN wants our network to be all inclusive and far-reaching. We want to nurture diversity of experience and thinking while including all genders in the empowerment of women health professionals. This process affects everyone.
If you could change a few things overnight, what would be some of the things you’d change?
If I had superpowers, I would make GP visits fully public funded to support the reorientation of the system to primary care, better align health and social services to mitigate the predetermination of how particular groups become more sick than others, build up the cultural competency of the health workforce, and make a national electronic health record appear out of thin air.
How do you think that we as New Zealanders can foster positive change?
There are a whole range of small and large ways to foster positive change, from reading the news daily to stay informed, sending an email to your local MP on issues you’re passionate about, calling out casual sexism or racism you may encounter, to getting involved in organisations that pursue equity like WiHN (shameless, sorry).
Immense, collective good can happen if everyone played a role in any small way they wish to participate in the culture revolution. At the core of all these activities needs to be the realisation that inequities of opportunity related to gender and socioeconomic status negatively impact all individuals and societal institutions as a whole. A lack of women leadership in health means that half the talent of our world is left untapped – what a waste! Half of our world is not able to participate, half of our world is not having their needs considered at the decision-making table by those best positioned to contribute. On the other hand, women leadership in health has a huge number of benefits – a general ripple effect for women empowerment, diversity and innovation in addressing health challenges, enhanced health system productivity, and improved health outcomes for everyone.
What event is coming up and how can we get involved?
Advice from Women Leaders in Health, our first fully-fledged event, will be on 26 Thursday April. You can find all our events on our Facebook page (Women in Health Network) and our website (www.wihn.org.nz). The best way you can stay in touch would be to sign up to our General Mailing List on our website.
Thanks for your interest in joining a network of strong women in health who support one another to become the best version of themselves, both personally and professionally!