The New Wave: Claiming Your Throne in Dentistry as Women

In Living Your Strengths, Print Issues by Lani Grass

Throughout history, men have been credited with ‘making history’, while the contributions undoubtedly made by women were erased and marginalized. Women were widely characterized as being less powerful, less important and less impactful than men. We can hypothesize that this thought culture is the result of longstanding conditioning and stereotyping of women’s roles in society, but I believe it is time for us to socialize ourselves and each other to claim the power that women have always possessed. More than half of all college graduates are women. Although we may struggle to gain respect in our careers, as well as in our communities, women are both making history and documenting it for future generations. Every day we see women that make a significant impact, yet we still have a hard time visualizing ourselves accomplishing our goals to create social change. We cannot change history, but we can change the future. First, though, we have to change our mindset and ourselves. Let me show you how.

An Ancient Belief System

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, I was brought to the United States at a young age and raised by an immigrant mother. My mother struggled her entire life, as she was married three times to different abusive men. She gave birth to three beautiful little girls whom she openly (and frequently) called a burden instead of a blessing due to the Asian cultural belief that boys are more highly valued than girls. For many years I truly believed that women were designated our lot in life. It was explained to me that women were either lucky or unlucky. My mother believed that she was unlucky and that her lot in life was the result of bad Karma from a previous lifetime, and nothing she did in this lifetime could change that. Although my childhood was difficult, I understand that my mother really did the best she could with the beliefs and resources she possessed.

It was with those beliefs that I was married for the first time at the tender age of 15 in a misguided attempt to finally have a stable home life. My mother signed emancipation papers so I could be legally married in another state that allowed such marriages. I looked forward to getting away from my stressful home situation, and I remember feeling good about my decision because my mother told me that I was lucky and that my future husband was a good and kind young man.

Feeling powerless, my mother never divorced her last abusive husband, and when she later died of cancer at age 60, it was amidst the grief and shock of her untimely death that I finally found the strength to leave my husband at the age of 37. Incredibly, I had spent most of my life married, but all I left behind was a sad, empty void and a loveless marriage of convenience that never blossomed into a true partnership. It would have been a happy time, except I had no idea who I was outside of that existence, and I was terrified to be alone for the first time since my sophomore year of high school.

Creating Boundaries

In the journey of building my new life, I had to not only find my inner strength but also learn how to build clear boundaries. I was burned out from never saying “no” and giving away my emotional energy for so many years. I found out that in helping others, I also had to invest my energy and resources in my personal development and recharging my emotional energy. I knew from experience that if I kept giving away all my time and strength, there would be nothing left for me. My motivation for self care could not be solely for the purpose of helping others. It had to be to build my own self-worth and self-love.

How do you know when you need to set a boundary? One way to know is when we feel angry about a situation. This is a signal that action is required. If you feel resentful about someone or something, it often means you haven’t been setting healthy boundaries. If you feel guilty about setting boundaries, you need to remember that all of your relationships suffer when you are unhappy, and setting boundaries is critically important to sustained happiness. Having tough conversations and standing up for yourself is more effective if you are calm, assertive and firm. What you are actually doing is teaching others how you want to be treated.

Once you get in the practice of setting clear boundaries, you will feel less anxious and more empowered. You will receive more respect from others and your relationships will improve. You are basically saying “yes” to yourself when you say “no” to something you don’t want to do.

Recognizing Your Talents

Women are not only unique, but we are also uniquely qualified to be leaders in life and in our profession. Communication is arguably one of the most important skills in dentistry. On average, women score higher than men in tests of emotional intelligence. While both men and women can excel at this, women pick up on nonverbal cues and display better listening skills. We are better at soft skills that help us both lead in our practices and excel at patient communication. We are empathetic and have more self-awareness. This enables us to lead the way in conflict management and inspirational leadership. Emotional intelligence in leadership roles helps retain team members, and everyone loves to work with someone who is great at managing conflict and influencing people.

Women show more empathy and display more compassion for other people. As a result, we tend to create female-friendly practices with benefits and perks that matter to other women. A female leader often offers benefits like a healthy work/life balance, generous family leave, as well as flexible work hours. As most dental practices have a majority female staff, these are very valuable personality traits.

We are creative and look at situations differently. Females are great at thinking outside the box and looking for new solutions to traditional problems. We look for innovative ways to motivate and inspire team members because we are one of them.

Women highly value building relationships. We prioritize working well with team members, delivering a great patient experience and creating time for family and relaxation. Dental professionals with great relationship- building skills are more successful and are more sought after. Women really are perfect for the roles in dentistry, use your talents to create the life you want.

Creating Impact

We already own all the important traits that qualify us to be changemakers in the world. If we never acknowledge all that we already are, we will not be able to dream big enough, much less make a plan to create what our heart truly desires. Ask yourself, “What would I do if nothing was holding me back?”

I can assuredly tell you that the formula for stepping into your feminine power is to embrace your unique and intuitive gifts as a woman and combine it with the strength of personal boundaries. This combination of softness and substance is the basis of true confidence that others can feel. There is no greater knowledge that you can possess than knowing who you really are and understanding the ripple effect you have on the world around you. You deserve it all, and it’s time for you to claim your throne.