Discrimination in dentistry – Nishma Sharma

Discrimination in DentistryDo you want to see the profession’s boards, associations and leaders become more representative?

In this extended series of articles, published over the course of the next week, women and men of different skills and backgrounds working in diverse areas of dentistry share their testimonies.

They outline what needs to happen to combat discrimination and move towards a profession which is fairer and more representative.


Consternation from an Asian woman dentist

Nishma Sharma, general dental practitioner and chair of the Diversity in Dentistry Action Group, applies a bespoke treatment planning approach to rooting out latent discrimination and bias in the profession.

The problem

For those who believe a lack of diversity isn’t an issue, or feel it is a ‘social construct’ created by women who choose to be offended, or that white privilege doesn’t exist, here are some factual examples of various ‘isms’ I have faced over the years:

  • ‘Sniff the end of it to see if it’s infected’ (paper point destined for my nostrils. I recoil sharply) ‘You can’t be a silly girl and be expected to be taken seriously in this profession. You’re gonna have to man up’ – clinical demonstrator
  • ‘Really? Why do you want to do that? You won’t get anywhere – it’s a man’s game’ – from a senior dentist when discussing going in to an SHO post
  • ‘Are you married? I don’t want the hassle of maternity cover’– principal dentist during an interview
  • ‘No, don’t want any Patels or Shahs, need a white dentist, too many Asians here already’ – when asked to shortlist
  • ‘Haha, look at those (breasts), we can get her to be the private dentist, and if they want NHS they can see XXX’ (not so large breasted associate; less blessed with pulchritude)
  • ‘Who did you sleep with to land that?’ – colleague when told of my successful posting to the OCDO
  • ‘Shall I ask XXX to help you? He’s really strong’ – nurse offering to call a male VT in to help me when struggling with a somewhat truculent root rather than a female principal 14 years my senior
  • ‘Would you like to errrr, come join us for golf’ – in response to my request for more cohesion at the practice. This is at a time when I thought a ‘driving range’ meant a Land Rover show room

Elephant in the room?

Please do not assume these gems have all fallen from the lips of men. In fact, the majority were from females and even some, I am ashamed to admit, from members of my own community.

A few have been ready to lay down triple glazing over that already well established glass ceiling, lest the status quo be challenged by any ‘rebels’ getting above their station. The point being: anyone can be complicit in ‘isms’ and this also isn’t exclusive to white men.

The experience of being on the panel of a recent webinar on gender equality that spiralled into an ironically perfect example on why we were holding the webinar in the first instance, left me at best bemused, at worst assaulted. Maybe gender is as much of an elephant in the room after all?

The methodology

Once active disease of inequality has been diagnosed, there are many ways of restoring the profession back to the function of progression:

  • Etching out and ensuring prejudice, bias, bigotry are minimally invasive in our workplaces and senior levels of organisations to aid a fine composite of diverse thoughts, people and ideas
  • Ensuring our minds stay decontaminated and open. Washing away and calling out ‘isms’ wherever we find them can only help to create strong lasting bonds between the dental family
  • We must prevent the offensive vitriolic layers of churlish naysayers by the total deoxygenation of those small minds who wish to bring inequity or inequality into our midst and offend the integrity of our reparations
  • We cure the prisms of ‘them and us’ and work decisively and collaboratively to rehabilitate by calling. It. Out
  • We use the speed and intelligence of our incredible workforce to finish our work and polish off, once and for all, all those who wish to limit us under that orange shield of oppression.

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