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  • Writer's pictureJayma Anne Montgomery

MY ICARUS FACTOR: WHY MANY MEN IN LEADERSHIP SEEM THREATENED BY WOMEN LIKE ME

God has staked everything on men. Strong men are the foundation of a strong marriage. Strong men are the foundation of a strong home. Strong men are the foundation of a strong church. Strong men are the foundation of a strong society. God has staked EVERYTHING on men.” -Tweet by Owen Strachan, Theologian on 3/30/2022




I read this tweet and felt many strong feelings. None of these feelings could be described as particularly positive. It’s possible he made this statement just to ruffle some feathers but I see no earthly reason why a theologian would do something so juvenile. I am not at all familiar with his work or writing and have nothing against him personally. But this statement took hold of several of my already ragged nerves and shook them senseless. It reminded me of the way that I felt every time I have butt heads in the workplace with the man in charge. I fully expect to encounter a blatant disregard for my position, qualifications, and capability in secular spaces but when I find it in the church, I am astounded. This should be the one place in the world where all people are treated with mutual dignity and respect. In fact, the Bible teaches us to give preference to the disadvantaged. By elevating men as the sole foundation of the most essential human institutions, Mr. Strachan is insulting women by omission. I’m also not sure what his definition of ‘strong’ is but I suspect it doesn’t look a whole lot like the life Jesus actually led. The importance that is and was placed on women in the Bible within the patriarchal system and time in which it was written was countercultural, in particular, their key role in advancing the gospel. These themes have been eloquently expounded upon by brilliant historians, theologians, and scholars such as Beth Allison Barr and Kristin Kobes Du Mez. What I hope to accomplish here is to provide a bird’s eye view of some of the challenges I have personally faced in my professional relationships with men who have had equal or supervisory roles over me and how these interactions have molded and sharpened me into the woman that I am today.


I’m going to come right out and state the obvious here. This is a controversial topic. I will do my best to handle it with delicacy and in a way that does not needlessly bash men simply for being men. Regardless of my efforts, I am almost certain that I will anger and offend someone. I don’t think this can be helped but I apologize in advance as this is not my intention. I can only speak from the lens through which I see the world, as a Christian woman who is of African ancestry. I validate the necessity of the male gender and the unique gifts that they have contributed to this world over the centuries. Men are just as indispensable as women are. There exist both good men and evil men but most fall somewhere in between the spectrum of good and evil. The same is true of all women. We are all a work of mastery and there should be no need to deprecate the other gender in order to elevate the other.


I am now approaching my mid-career years as a physician. This is the point at which I am to begin to commit more firmly down a particular path. The options include: assuming more directorship duties, transitioning partially or fully into a less clinical role, or remaining a ‘knuckles to the ground’ clinician for the rest of my career. I absolutely thrive on patient interaction and doubt that I will ever fully part with it until I retire. However, my personality and military training have groomed me for leadership. People can sense it in the workplace even if I don’t actually have a title and thus naturally seek me out for guidance and decision-making. My management chain often senses it as well and tends to fast-track me into leadership relatively quickly.


Over the past few years, I have begun to notice a disturbing cycle at work in the background of my every workplace experience. It seems as if after I am handed the reins of leadership, it comes tethered to an invisible electric cage that no one ever bothers to tell me about. Inevitably, I end up flying face-first into the forcefield and singeing my wings. The leaders above me always seem stunned that I bothered to try to fly in the first place and I am always stunned that they never expected me to. This is the point at which I realize that despite the fact that I actually meant everything I had said from the very beginning, they were just giving me lip service. In these scenarios, my immediate supervisor has always been a male. I have very rarely ever had direct female leadership in my career until now.


Medicine has become a business-driven, political climate. Had I known this when I was applying to medical school, I would have changed course promptly. Getting to the top of this food chain requires one to do more than merely compromise but to conform. It may entail a willingness to document poorly to enhance your productivity on paper. It might involve sacrificing your personal boundaries to be at the beck and call of VIPs. It might look like unfairly throwing another doctor under the bus for the sake of preserving a partnership or pleasing a hospital executive. It might involve becoming an absentee parent and accepting the resentment of your spouse and children as a necessary price to pay along the way to professional greatness. It might appear in much more subtle ways, like not verbalizing when you disagree with something or supporting something that you believe is wrong in order to accomplish some greater goal. The fact of the matter is, unless I’m entrenched in a literal war or mass casualty situation, I won’t employ utilitarian ethics in my decision-making.


Many of the men I have encountered in these situations seem to have been able to make these kinds of choices without the slightest appearance of internal conflict. If you are able to view what you are doing as ‘just a job’ and ‘a game you can win’ then people become dollar signs and digital characters in a video game. I’m not saying that all men are this way and that no woman would ever make these choices. What I am saying is that in my experience, it’s still mostly men in executive leadership positions, structuring the organizations, and deciding how the money gets spent in the medical field. A deeply entrenched culture was built hundreds of years ago by men which has been handed down to other men and perpetuated ad nauseum. Now many women are walking into these spaces with different ideas and perspectives. These men are not accustomed to being challenged or questioned in any way by a woman, even justifiably. So, when a woman like me comes along and starts asking valid questions, pointing out vulnerabilities in the system, and proposing reasonable solutions the response is generally antagonistic.


The necessary paradigm shift that has drawn more women into medicine has been met with expected resistance. As of 2019, the percentage of male doctors in the US still outnumbered females 64 to 34%. However, in that same year, females edged out males 50.5% to 49.4% across medical schools in the US for the first time in history. More women are now moving into leadership positions in primary care and many more are going into surgical or procedure-heavy medical specialties. More and more women, like me and unlike me are going to be occupying these historically male led territories and changing the dynamic simply by being present. They are going to bristle against the men in charge by virtue of their very existence. They aren’t going to laugh at the same jokes or want to hang out at the same places after work. They may be less accessible during their time off or less willing to engage in mandatory teambuilding recreational activities. Add to that any difference in perspective or approach, and it’s often misinterpreted as betrayal or mistrust. I thought the way to fix that, was by going into every work situation with bold honesty about my personality traits and regularly vocalizing my long-range goals so that there would be no surprises. But they were still surprised and ultimately repulsed that I turned out to be precisely who I said I was.


I have mentioned before that since departing the military in Dec 2018, I have resigned from four different full-time jobs. If I want this cycle to end, I need to take a hard look at myself and not just keep pointing fingers at the companies that I have resigned from. When I dissect every story, they all begin and end pretty much the same way. I am enthusiastically hired and treated like a golden child for a period of time. I feel excited and motivated; like I might actually be able to make a difference. Inevitably, the issues begin to present themselves and I do what I was invited to do when I was first hired: provide feedback to improve our work environment and/or improve the care that we provide to our patients. This is the point at which I start to feel the jolt from the electric cage that I didn’t know I was in. My blunt honesty and no-nonsense approach get misconstrued as hostility. My tenacity for honest practices and transparency gets interpreted as a hostile takeover. I provide nothing but open communication and possible solutions but they meet me with stony silence and roadblocks at every turn. It’s just a really hard culture to change. So that leaves me with a pretty big question to answer: is there even a place for me in medicine anymore? I think there is, just not as I originally imagined it. Right now, it looks like working per diem for my local hospital and maintaining good relations with them. I don’t feel ready to fully walk away from it anytime soon but I think the amount of time I dedicate to it may always have to be limited for the sake of my sanity and overall well-being. Apparently, there is such a thing as caring too much.


All of this is hindsight and speculation of course. None of my former bosses have been open to sitting down with me and hashing out our differences. I honestly don’t believe that these individuals consciously disliked me because of the color of my skin and my biological gender. Whatever this is, seems to occur on a subconscious level. I think that most men are unaccustomed to interacting closely with women in a professional setting, especially minority women. Most of us simply don’t know how to approach anything lightly because we have never had that luxury. Pushing back is a way of life for many of us whether we hail from the ghettos of Jamaica, the streets of Philadelphia, or the suburbs of New Jersey. Tenacity and conviction are necessary character traits for our very survival in a world that simultaneously expects too much and too little of us. I never learned how to be ‘one of the boys’ so to speak. I just know how to work harder, keep my nose clean, and perform like a boss each and every time because it’s what I have had to do to get this far. So, when it comes time to break through that glass ceiling and I’m basically told to brown nose, tap dance, and gaslight people in order to make it happen, then all the air just gets sucked right out of me. Even if I could stomach doing the song and dance one good time, wouldn’t I then have to keep up the pretense in order to maintain the status? I just don’t think I’m the woman for that job or any other job like it. For the time being, I think appointed leadership beyond a clinical role in medicine is off the table for me. Coming to that decision has granted me a tremendous sense of relief, which probably demonstrates just how stressed and overwhelmed I have been all of these years without fully realizing it.

To further refine my point, I will mention that historically oppressed people groups tend to come across as frustrated when airing their grievances. It’s usually because they aren’t just making a passing observation about the situation in question but are actually quite frustrated by it. It’s hard to ask nicely for something that you believe is a basic human right or to approach someone who is treating you unfairly in a completely non-accusatory way. I think that expecting the person to remain perpetually silent or engage from a position of complete neutrality is far from realistic. Are there instances in which certain groups of women and minorities have vocalized their frustrations in a manner that is uncouth, unmannerly, and downright embarrassing? Absolutely. That’s a lengthy and fascinating discussion for another day. Personal restraint is lacking in abundance in this country and we do love our public mudslinging. Perhaps marginalized individuals who also happen to be Christians should be careful to conduct themselves better than the rest of the world amidst their unjust circumstances. Perhaps Christians who are in a position of advantage should say less and listen more to the disadvantaged, even if the tone and some of the content of what is being said are unpleasant or uncomfortable to hear.


Getting back to the odious quote at the beginning of this blog post. I think it’s more than fair for me to apply it in a general sense considering that Strachan is making such a sweeping statement about all men. If a man, Christian or not, possesses the worldview that their company, institution, or organization rests solely on them, that is a very dangerous thing. I cannot know Mr. Strachan's intended meaning, but I fear the interpreted meaning by men who already have overbearing tendencies is to believe he is calling them more important to GOD than women are. Being a strong man does not need to mean being dismissive of the capable women around you who have been placed in your life to partner with you to overcome challenges. In a non-Christian or secular worldview, strength often looks like manipulation, coercion, and violence. But in the Christian worldview, the primary way that strength is exhibited is by surrendering your own interests for the benefit of others; I’m fairly certain that a whale-sized ego and fixation on maintaining all control fall into the category of things that can and should be surrendered for the sake of others. To our natural ears, this sounds a lot like defeat. We want victory without the cost despite the clear example that Jesus set for His followers. Modern men and women now find themselves gridlocked in a tiresome game of tug-of-war in which neither is willing to lay down anything for the other. There is seemingly no end to this. But let’s be clear that GOD absolutely did not ‘stake everything’ on men but on his fully GOD, fully human son Jesus Christ.


I’m honestly not sure what’s next for me. I know that I won’t allow these experiences to embitter or harden me into the kind of woman who openly crusades against men. I would much rather expend my energy finding ways to help the men and women in my life interact in a healthier way in ministry and in the workplace. I’m now more convinced than ever that there is no dream job out there for me. I can spend the rest of my career cycling through corporate philosophies that ultimately prove hollow and short-sighted, or I can focus on creating an employment situation that works best for myself and my family. For right now that looks like customizing a hospitalist schedule to allow ample time for home life and writing. In the meantime, there are other hobbies and interests that I surrendered long ago for the sake of medical training that are eagerly waiting to be rekindled. There is a wide, wonderful world out there beyond the walls of my hospital that is alive with people, places, and things I am longing to discover. There is probably also a version of myself waiting to be discovered as well; a me that is healthy, well-rounded, and emotionally balanced, perched on the edge of a rocky precipice ready to fly beyond the sun.






After some feedback from my husband about the many challenges of being a Christian man today, I will add what I left out for the sake of trying to be concise:

Allow me to reiterate that this essay was never about expressing an issue with all men, but rather, about expressing an issue with men of a certain problematic mindset. Its important to remember that many of the men in positions of authority may not be representative of either the best of men or the average Joe. It always comes down to the person's character and how they achieved and maintain that position of power. I think what we will start to see over time is more and more women adopting many of the maladaptive strategies that made their male predecessors 'successful' and there will be less discussions about gender differences and more about ethical and unethical behavior in general. The sexual revolution has proven that women are just as capable of some of the worst behaviors of their male counterparts. I say this about race all the time, things aren't going to magically get better if you just put a bunch of formerly oppressed people in charge. People are people. Self-interest almost always trumps freedom. From a Christian worldview, humanity is NOT inherently good and desperately needs GOD's redemption. So while I wholeheartedly support efforts to even the playing field between the sexes and the artificially imposed racial classification system, I am much more interested in how we get GODly men and women in positions of influence without attempting to forcefully overturn legitimate elections or wage unprovoked wars on a neighboring territory. Being a Christian is hard; it always has been. However, the Biblical authors didn't give the Jews and Christians of their day license to be combative towards their enemies or to misrepresent GOD's image to suit their interests even though they were being imprisoned, exiled, and martyred. Yes, we are ostracized, unfairly accused, and unfairly portrayed by the world but our calling to be like Christ remains the same. Remember GOD's words to the people of Israel as they were preparing to enter the promised land:


This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”


Joshua 1:8‭-‬9 CSB

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