Welcome to Contour Extended! We’ll feature additional content related to recently published Contour articles. See the article about women in dentistry in January’s Contour here.
Dear Hidden Figures,
Perhaps you have seen the new motion picture that describes the life of Katherine Johnson, an African-American math prodigy who grew up in White Sulfur Springs, W. Va. She grew up counting numbers and manually computing equations. In 1953, she began working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), later known at NASA. She joined hundreds of other women as a human computer. Pre-dating Apple or Microsoft, these women helped to win the race to space. As a math computer, she completed calculations for Alan Shepard, John Glenn, the Apollo moon landing mission and the start of the space shuttle program.
In meetings, she was known to ask “why?” instead of simply calculating for an answer. This was something most women, especially an African-American woman, would not think of doing at that time in history. But Katherine wanted to do more than compute. More than anything, she wanted to learn. Her passion to learn and push beyond the status quo changed the trajectory of the United States’ space quest. Although the title of the movie suggests that Katherine Johnson was hidden in the background of the space program, she proved she was not.
As a woman in dentistry, neither are you! Have you taken a look at the statistics for women in dentistry lately? You will probably notice that there are more women dentists than ever. In fact, now almost 50% of U.S. dental school graduates are female. In clinical practice, the market of women dentists in the U.S. has risen from 11% in 1993 to 27% in 2014.
Although we are graduating thousands of female dentists each year, the statistics show that older trends persist. Women are still dramatically underrepresented among ADA officers and board members. The ADA reports surprisingly few female members of their House of Delegates, U.S. dental school deans and state dental society presidents. Beyond dentistry, only about 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
Just like Katherine Johnson, we have an opportunity to change the trajectory of dentistry. Women are capable of launching ideas, policies and change in a new direction. Personally, I have found myself in an interesting orbit in dentistry. Since graduation, I have joined forces with igniteDDS, a new dentist community forum, and become a contributing editor for Dental Entrepreneur Woman Magazine (DeW Life). This publication fuels my passion, just as counting and calculations fueled Katherine Johnson’s. DeW Life is writing to serve and empower women to contribute to the field of dentistry. We want to bring recognition to female dentists and increase the number of women in leadership positions in dentistry.
If you think that your involvement in dentistry ends when you graduate, you are mistaken. Your involvement is just beginning: you can write, blog, speak, serve, give back, join forces and most importantly, lead. It doesn’t have to stop with organized dentistry. There are opportunities to be involved in companies, publications, universities, study clubs and online communities. If you don’t know where to start, ask another female leader. Ask “How can I learn more? How can I shine? How can I lead in dentistry?”
We need more women leaders. You will find that every woman has a unique story that can inspire you or a piece of advice you can share with your female classmates. Instead of being hidden figures, join us in influencing the course of dentistry.
~ Dr. Erinne Kennedy, Nova Southeastern ’15