A 2021 Women’s Leadership Study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that American women held 41% of management positions in companiesand women continue to struggle with underrepresentation when it comes to board positions and CEO roles. They also face gender bias, harassment and opposition to their management styles.
Here’s how an MIT alumnus pushed back those statistics and used what she learned along the way to help those behind her.
Christine Tsien Silvers; SB ’91, SM ’93, PhD ’00, MD ’01 (Harvard Medical School), Clinical Informatics Leader and Executive Advisor in Healthcare at Amazon Web Services
How is your professional life as a working woman different from what you imagined at the start of your career?
When I started my career, I worked approximately eight daily ER shifts per month in order to feel personally fulfilled in my professional life while being able to focus on raising my family.
And that dream lifestyle was one I couldn’t even have imagined during my undergrad: I spent seven years completing the Harvard Medical School-MIT Division of Health Sciences MD program. while finishing my MIT 6 course Doctorate, then four years of residency in emergency medicine at the combined program at Massachusetts General Hospital / Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
For the first 10 years of my career, I worked part-time and took my three children on frequent explorations of the area’s museums, zoos, parks and more, which gave me a wonderful balance. Although I had initially thought that I would continue to work part-time forever, I eventually felt that I had to work full-time to not only have more time to work, but a greater impact in what I do professionally.
As my children grew (18, 15 and 12), their needs also changed, which allowed me to return to full-time work. Today, I’m a health care consultant for academic medical centers looking to innovate with cloud technologies.
Who has been an ally or mentor to you throughout your career? What made this person stand out and how specifically did they help you take your professional development to the next level?
The two individuals who stand out are Zak Kohane and Cindy Crump. Zak, also an MD with a PhD in Computer Science, co-supervised my thesis and has been a mentor and friend for over 25 years. When I wanted to focus on raising a family while occasionally working in the emergency department, Zak supported me but convinced me to keep writing and publishing. Over the years, he continued to support me, always ready to listen to my concerns and make suggestions.
Cindy contacted me when I had just finished my residency, saying that she had read my thesis on automated trend analysis in time series data (e.g. ICU data) and was hoping I could consult for her new company. It was Cindy’s perseverance that opened my eyes to the health tech industry and Cindy’s faith in me that drove me to [advising] frameworks in the C-suites.
Can you give an example of a time when you experienced or witnessed gender bias? How has this affected you professionally? What impact has this had on your work?
During my third year of residence, my husband and I wanted to start our family because I was already 34 years old. When I was pregnant, I discussed with the residency program the options available to me. We couldn’t agree, and at some point the residence manager suggested that I leave the residence. Eventually, we reached an agreement, which provided that I made up every shift I had to miss during my maternity leave – including the end of residency about six weeks after the usual graduation date. The slight delay did not affect me professionally, but leaving the residency without completing it would certainly have affected my career. After my maternity leave, several of my roommates came to see me to confide and discuss their own concerns.
How do you support the women who come up behind you?
I served for three years on the admissions committee of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology MD program, and I continue to mentor women through an organization called Sweetenerwhich strives to improve gender equity in health care leadership.
I was a mentor with the Women graduates of MIT and volunteered with the MIT Society of Women Engineers. When I graduated from Mounds View Secondary School, the scholarships were extremely helpful in funding my studies at MIT. In 2005, after completing my education and training, I created the “Thank You Scholarship” to give back to my high school because I was so grateful for the financial support I received.
What is the hardest lesson you have learned in your professional life? In what unexpected ways have you grown from it?
It’s normal to have different interests and goals than those that seem common or expected. Deviating from a computer science college track to pursue medical school wasn’t what people expected me to do, but it was what I was passionate about.
It was considered unusual to only work daily shifts in the community emergency department instead of pursuing a full-time academic medical position after graduating from Harvard, but those years were incredibly meaningful to me. , my family and my community. Pursuing what I love and trying to do my best in those pursuits has not only been integral to my life and career path, but also makes “work” fun.