Growing up, I had many strong, empowering women role models who taught me to make my own choices and stand my ground, like my Italian-spitfire grandmother—enough said, right?—and my aunt, who left home to open her own business before marrying a Jewish man (and converting, to boot). Not the typical move for someone from a strict Catholic family in the 1930s.
But my mom was perhaps my greatest inspiration. I watched her single-handedly care for my dad as he battled an escalating disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, an incurable brain disorder. Even at the end—when my dad could use only his eyes to communicate (up and down was “yes”; side to side was “no”) and the doctors wanted to let him die because they felt he had “a poor quality of life”—she fought hard for my dad to live and die the way he wanted: live for as long as possible with his family by his side. Her strength and determination shaped the way I approach life, including my career.
Over the past few months, Heidi Jannenga and I have talked quite a bit about an important issue—specifically, the lack of female leaders and business owners in our profession. Despite women making up the majority of APTA membership, the number of female private practice business owners is a fraction of their male counterparts. We need to determine what factors have led to this trend and more importantly, how we can encourage women—if they so desire—to “climb the corporate ladder” or choose to open their own businesses.
Our discussion began because of a book by Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. Although the book was published more than a year ago, I hadn’t heard of it. But when Heidi brought it to my attention, I quickly read a copy. Sheryl brings up so many great points and—quite frankly—issues I hadn’t really considered because of the strong women in my life, including CB Lehn, Sally Mays, Jo Rucinski, and Meredith Petscauer, who established successful careers at the University of North Carolina—arguably one of the top three sports medicine programs in the country. Prior to becoming the first woman head athletic trainer in professional US sport, I thought about my gender about as much as my eye color. From my perspective, it just wasn’t a factor in my career.
Embarrassingly, I now realize how truly blessed I was to be surrounded by so many positive and self-reliant woman who never made me feel like being a woman could hold me back. However, there were career challenges and pitfalls for which even they couldn’t prepare me. I believe that the opportunity for mentorship—to have a resource, someone to learn from—is critical for women who want to pursue leadership opportunities in PT.
I had so many mentors in the field of sports medicine during school and early in my career—but most of those people were men. At the time, I didn’t separate my mentors by gender; they were simply people I respected and relied on to help me establish my career path. But the rehab therapy field—where men dominate in leadership—can be difficult to navigate. I know now that more woman-to-woman advice from someone who’d “been there, done that” might have saved me from some of my growing pains,. This is why I feel so strongly about PropelHer. It gives women in PT a space to seek mentorship, open discussion, and empowerment—and women like myself the opportunity to give back to the next generation of women rehab therapists.
I hope PropelHer brings awareness to gender inequality in the rehab therapy space and to the men and women who do support women leaders in PT. It’s crucial that the established women leaders in our field offer their support. It’s time to take responsibility for empowering our women DPTs to pursue and obtain leadership opportunities.