• Project Empower Circle

Leadership, Women & Power: A Conversation with Dr. Gigi Osler

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

“Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”

- Joanne Ciulla (Author and Educator)


Dr. Gigi Osler is a head, neck and throat surgeon, and the immediate past president of the Canadian Medical Association. In our conversation with Dr. Osler, we discussed topics encompassing leadership, power and women in the workplace, with an emphasis on fostering diversity and inclusion, as well as shifting power dynamics. While we recommend you watch the full webinar (link at the end of the article) to gain invaluable insights, here are 5 take-aways summarizing some of the highlights of the talk.

1. Be Authentic

Authenticity is a key quality of a leader. Take Greta Thunberg for instance, her authenticity when advocating for climate change has contributed to the movement and has set her apart as a leader. People sense authenticity and the passions that extend beyond just yourself. It has the capacity to move the masses. So whatever you do, be true to yourself, be honest and be authentic!


2. ‘Why not me?’

When Dr. Osler’s colleague said that she should run for the Canadian Medical Association presidency, her initial thought was ‘Why me?’. But once she took the time to give it some more thought, she realized that she brought value and her passion for creating a better, more equitable culture in medicine to the role, and that ‘Why me?’ changed into a ‘Why not me?’. So ‘Why not you?’. Why don’t you run for that leadership position in the club you’re a part of? Why don't you launch that podcast you’ve been thinking about? Why don’t you take that first step to launch your very own business? Believe you can, and you will!


3. Mentors and allies can amplify women’s voices.

Women who are successful in masculinized work environments navigate a difficult situation as they face criticism when they speak up and question authority. In these environments, finding experienced mentors that know the playing field is important. Allies, at any power level, can also amplify women’s voices. For example, if at a work meeting, your idea is getting ignored when you speak but acknowledged when repeated by a male co-worker, an ally can amplify your voice by saying “I think [your name]’s idea is exactly what this company needs right now”, or “thank you Bob, I think what you’re really reiterating what [your name] is saying.” Having mentors, sponsors, and allies can help you navigate the workplace. Seek out mentors! You can start within your network and see where that takes you.



4. Achieving equity and inclusion requires a shift in power to those who need it.

Power is often conceptualized in three ways: 1) power structure with control over others, 2) power in the ability to work together, either through empowerment or collective ability, and 3) power through knowledge or information. Creating inclusive, equitable, and diverse cultures requires fundamental shifts in power, which is much more difficult to achieve than fixing individual people (to ask them to lean in and speak up about inequalities). The UN Secretary General has said that “the problem with achieving gender equality is power in a male dominated world and a male-dominated culture.” To make progress, we need to shift power relations, and share power with those who need it.



5. See your blindspots.

We all have blindspots. Groups with people from the same gender, ethnicity, SES may amplify individual blindspots. This is where the benefit of diversity is in cognitive diversity. It’s about how we think and how we avoid groupthink. Diverse leaders and organizations tend to have better problem solving skills due to the value of having different perspectives. This notion is supported by research conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, which found that diversity in leadership teams facilitates innovation and increases financial performance. Diversity can help eliminate some of the individual blindspots as different perspectives work to fill in the gaps.


Dr. Osler’s Vision for the Future of Medicine


When asked about her vision for the future of the healthcare field, this is what Dr. Osler had to say:

“I would love to see a more equitable healthcare system with better health outcomes for all Canadians. For my indigenous patients, for my racialized patients, my immigrant refugee patients. Better health for all of them. Because that is the promise of Canada.”

“I want a better culture that is more inclusive for everybody”


Dr. Osler concluded the talk by discussing the powerful and complex question “How do we make a difference?”, which she answered through the lenses of People, Power, and Progress. We can all act as mentors, allies, and sponsors. Understanding how power is used and centralized in your organization is important to take action towards distributing it equally. To make progress, we need to gather data from diverse groups and demand organizations to solve problems that affect these groups through concrete goal-setting and holding them accountable.


Want to watch the full webinar? Click Here.


Image credits:

Women climbing a mountain - @owendaveydraws, Freelance Illustrator

Woman - Onella Narangoda, Illustrator



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