Dr Louise Newman

on Wednesday, 23 May 2012. Posted in Interviews about the Glass Ceiling

Dr Louise Newman

Louise Newman when interviewed held the following current positions:

Director, NSW Institute of Psychiatry; Chair, NSW Branch, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists; Chair, Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, RANZCP.

I have a background in Psychology, Philosophy and Gender Studies and completed a BAhons in 1980 prior to studying medicine at Sydney. I then completed psychiatry training and child psychiatry and worked as the Clinical Director of Child Psychiatry in South West Sydney until 1997. During that time I focussed mainly on child maltreatment and my major clinical interest has been in developing interventions and support for women who have experienced child abuse and are attempting to parent.

I continue to be involved in child protection and sit on several committees and advisory groups. I am interested in improving systems of intervention for children and work currently in the Centre for Mental Health in the Health Department looking at policy development. 

In my role at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry, I am reviewing the training of psychiatrists and child psychiatrists in NSW and have developed accredited postgraduate courses in mental health for other professional groups. In my College roles, I represent child psychiatrists and am involved in advocacy for mental health services reform, women's mental health and issues of sexuality and gender.

Interview with Dr Louise Newman

Do you think that there is an invisible barrier preventing women from reaching the highest level in your profession regardless of their accomplishments and merits?

The medical profession has historically been a difficult arena for women. We currently have roughly equal numbers of men and women amongst undergraduates and junior staff but the proportion of women completing specialist training remains low - around 15% of women go on to specialist training. Specialist training programmes have traditionally been demanding in terms of work hours, travel etc and not easy for women, particularly those with or wanting children. Apart from these gross obstacles there are the usual more subtle yet powerful disincentives and a culture that discourages women from competition. There remain particular areas of medicine such as surgery that are male dominated and not easy to enter.

If yes, why do you think this exists in your profession? 

The glass ceiling has probably become a diamond ceiling, at least in the public health system. It has clearly become easier for women to enter administrative and management positions but not necessarily to reach the level of Director. Women remain reluctant to adopt the style of interaction and management often seen as essential for leadership and there is little cultural understanding of different and more consultative and relationally focussed management approaches.

Is this barrier in your profession penetrable? How can the barrier be dismantled in your profession?

Change involves a change in culture and a change in women's evaluation of ourselves. Women in senior roles are obviously needed as role-models but need to be appropriate models who acknowledge and promote diversity and demonstrate what is possible. The diamond ceiling is not the only end-point worth aiming at - the incorporation of women at all organisational levels will have a filter-out effect. Some of this involves more flexible work and employment practices.

Do you consider yourself to have broken through the Glass ceiling in your profession? If yes, how have you done this?

In my position and within my own professional body (RANZCP), I have encountered the pervasive subtle forms of resistance to female leadership rather than overt sexism. At times this is demoralising. The most important thing I have learned is how important it is to surround oneself with a group of women in similar positions and maintain a sense of perspective.

In general, what do you see as the underlying cause that must be addressed to shatter the glass ceiling in corporate and public Australia?

Initially I think we can all promote change by leading as women in male dominated systems and not forgetting that we are representing women's interests. We need to advocate for women and not accept subtle discrimination

Women in leadership can teach younger women the language of leadership, but also how to broaden the current paradigms to make them more inclusive of women's experiences.