“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”- Simone De Beauvoir

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Katerina Drakos, a 5th year medical student from the Lisbon School of Medicine. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

A short reflection concerning women leaders.

On the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, the world witnessed a surge of support for women and their established role in society. My own medical school proudly released an infographic with remarkably high percentages of women doctors, researchers, etc. However, one number struck me the most: amidst the 60% through 80% of women in medicine, only 21% of high-standing leadership positions were held by women1.

Naturally, the question everyone started asking, was “why?”.

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Paula Johnson talk about women’s health and role in medicine and how there are two main barriers to closing the gender gap: social isolation and sexual harassment2. And when asked about the percentage disparity, she acknowledged that in countries where women are well-established doctors, the expected 50% occupancy of leadership positions by women is not often reached.

With this is mind, and still contemplating the 21% of women that ought to be much nearer to 50%, I found myself scrolling through Twitter, when I came across a riddle. It goes as follows: “A father is about to bring his son to a job interview, […]. Just when arriving, […] the son receives a phone call. He looks up at this father, who says: ‘’Go ahead, pick it up.’’ The caller is the CEO of the stock trading company, who says: ‘’Good luck son… you’ve got this.’’ The boy hangs up the phone and again looks at his father, who is still sitting next to him […]. How is this possible?”3

Considering the title, you have probably guessed the correct answer (his mother) and I shamefully admit that the answer never even crossed my mind. Me, an open feminist, raised by strong female figures, failed to imagine his mother as the CEO.

This moment was game-changing: how can we, women, assume leadership roles such as CEOs if we are still struggling to accept these roles as commonplace?

This being said, I am aware that we are succeeding in closing the gender gap and some stereotypes are nowadays regarded as remnants of a past generation. Women are no longer, at least publicly, seen as “submissive” or “overly emotional”, just as they are no longer expected to be “domestic” and “husband-pleasing”. We are experiencing a paradigm shift, as women start to feel more confident in making the first cut during surgical operations and assume leadership roles.

In conclusion, what recent research has taught me, is that society needs to begin by changing its mindset and aim to bring subconscious bias into the spotlight. Women need to be seen as role-models, accepted and recognized for their hard work and determination. Dr. Paula mentioned that you cannot have excellence without diversity, and that the answers we seek are shaped by the questions we ask. Diversity is therefore essential, and we must strive to be equal in our differences. As Dr. Paula beautifully quoted in her speech, we should be “ready to imagine a different world and be ready to fight for it”4.


  1. FMUL no Feminino [Internet]. Medicina.ulisboa.pt. 2021 [cited 23 March 2021]. Available from: https://www.medicina.ulisboa.pt/sites/default/files/2021-03/fmul-no-feminino8-de-marcodia-internacional-da-mulher-2021v2.pdf
  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/24994.
  3. Celebrating Women’s Achievements All Over the World. Mindspace [Internet]. 2021 [cited 23 March 2021];. Available from: https://www.mindspace.me/magazine/2020-02-27_celebrating-womens-achievements-all-over-the-world
  4. Roy A. ‘The pandemic is a portal’. Financial Times [Internet]. 2020 [cited 23 March 2021];. Available from: https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca

About the author

Katerina Drakos is a 5th year medical student from the Lisbon School of Medicine and is a member of the Medical Students Association of Portugal, ANEM-Portugal, National Member Organization (NMO) of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA). She is one of the two Portuguese National Exchange Officers and works closely with other mobility issues in her NMO. She is particularly interested in mental health and psychiatric disorders and advocates for the freedom of expression, gender equity and initiatives that keep students well-informed regarding current events.

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