Dr. Nitika Pant Pai's Leadership Journey with WomenLift Health

Nitika Pant Pai, MD, MPH, PhD, Associate Professor and Scientist in the McGill Department of Medicine, sat down with us to share her motivations for joining the WomenLift Health (WLH) Leadership Journey, a program aimed at empowering mid-career women to become global health leaders.

What motivated you to join the WLH’s Leadership Journey?

Upon learning about this initiative from my close colleagues, who suggested I apply, the fact that this initiative was supported by none other than Melinda Gates made me think harder about whether it could be worth my time and energy.

The WLH program strives to accelerate the involvement of women in global health leadership, bringing together talented individuals from diverse sectors.

I looked up their website and was impressed by their excellent, well-thought-out coaching, mentoring program, global outreach, and worldwide network. I found the initiative to be unique, visionary, and pathbreaking in every way. I knew it was competitive to get in, but I thought there was no harm in trying.

Leadership is a skill and a mindset that, like any other, can be learned, unlearned, and relearned.

Why is it important to have more women leaders in global health?

I grew up in an intellectual family of lawyers and educationists, who strongly believed and practiced gender equality and social justice. As I evolved into a healthcare professional, I never saw it being implemented pretty and squarely in practice in the health care space. I moved around the world for professional training. I've perceived barriers to career progression for women (non-white) everywhere. I was shocked that this differential existed here, too, in North America.

Women (non-white) are often under-estimated for their potential, and under-represented in leadership, wonder why? I have observed a dearth of good, giving, and transformative female global leadership, especially in top leadership positions in public health, dx (diagnostics), and in medical spaces. Sometimes, decisions on women’s health are made by all male scientific boards, that looks ridiculous (kind of like in the movie Barbie).

Giving time, energy, sound advice, with integrity is a simple but precious karma. It was a struggle for me to receive the same in my career from women of my ilk. I wondered why and figured late in life, that perhaps, some of these struggles were equity, diversity, and inclusivity barriers. So, I decided to turn my pain and struggles into a passion! And this opportunity came along.

We do not have 'Girls Clubs' in medicine, academia, or healthcare. Career mentoring has been anemic for women like me (of my skin and ethnicity), so I have always hoped for a change in that realm. But we need more giving women to do that, and that calls for a Giving Girls Club. We all need sound advice at many different time points in our career. I see WomenLift's global platform as a forum to address this gap.

Why is this leadership journey vital to you?

Ever since I stopped practicing and prescribing to my patients and consciously switched gears to researching and innovating for public health impact, I listened to patient narratives, front-line caregivers pain points, and community organizations service touch points, more than I prescribed. I quickly learned about the challenges in the countries I worked in when I stepped out of my defined professional role. Unlearning helped me become an empathic research leader to carve out impactful, meaningful projects for them and with them.

I also realized a substantial unmet need for training and education in health and medicine. The younger generation learns by observation and the way you conduct yourself in life and career. In my culture, it is called “Samskara (Sanksrit word)”- and in science- it is “epigenetic programming." Stressing the importance of setting an example for future leaders, I hope to inspire my students/trainees/fellows, many women like me who wish to break through the concealed barriers of gender/race stereotypes in leadership roles. And most importantly, I hope to inspire my daughter, who I hope won’t have to face the issues that I did. They should become chapters in history books by then.

What are your goals for improving your leadership skills through this program, and where do you see yourself at the end of it?

This is an incredible opportunity to learn new leadership skills, connect with a global body and network of female leaders across different spaces who have 'been there and done that'.

You don’t find that granularity of work experience in a book or that nuance in the web posts. I am at a phase in life where I wish to unlearn, evolve into a better leader, and, when the time comes, be prepared to lead an organization to its envisioned future with a well-scripted and trained mindset.

And that’s my wish! At the WLH, I want to absorb from experienced, credible, top female professionals of high integrity and value systems, who are giving and wish to coach and mentor others to “lift others”. That intention and energy is beautiful and pure and that will generate good karma. I am sure, it will boomerang and turn into a bigger movement that scripts change.

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