The appointment of the AAO’s Inclusion and Engagement Task Force is a major step forward in the association’s effort to serve the needs of a diversifying membership. Addressing inclusiveness has been a process as opposed to a destination, however, with Dr. Valerie Martone, chair of the AAO Special Committee on Women Orthodontists, having contributed significant leadership throughout the journey.

Dr. Martone first became a delegate from the Great Lakes Association of Orthodontists to the AAO House of Delegates in 2013, having been in orthodontic practice in western Pennsylvania since 1990.

“When I walked into my first HOD meeting, I was one of very few females in a large room filled with men,” says Dr. Martone. “During the meeting, Dr. Gayle Glenn was inducted as the first female AAO president and Dr. Nahid Maleki (2017-18 AAO president) was serving as a trustee. It was a new experience to me to feel like a minority, because in other professional situations I did not. The specialty had begun to change by then and there were many women attending orthodontic meetings and events. That level of change was not reflected within the AAO HOD.”

As an experienced leader in organized orthodontics at the state and regional levels, in 2016 Dr. Martone was asked to join a new AAO initiative with the goal of exploring how the AAO could strengthen its support of constituent and component leaders. She was appointed to the Component Support and Leadership Development Committee, helping to launch the Leadership Network and revamp the annual Leadership Development Conference.

Also serving on the Component Support and Leadership Development Committee were three members of the Board of Trustees: Dr. Gary Inman, who became the 2019-20 AAO president; Dr. Ken Dillehay, current president-elect; and Dr. Steven Siegel, current trustee. During one of her initial conversations with the Board members, Dr. Martone brought up her concerns about the lack of women in leadership roles within the association.

Understanding the Challenges of Diversifying Leadership
“I was very happy to find that the trustees shared my concerns,” says Dr. Martone. “Identifying ways to bring about change was not so easy, though.

“The leadership question is very complex,” Dr. Martone explains. “Even though we had Dr. Glenn and Dr. Maleki as wonderful leaders and role models, it is important to realize women do not necessarily follow the same pathways as men into leadership. In some cases, male leaders may simply recruit friends who they think may be interested. That is an efficient way to recruit volunteers, but of course, male leaders’ friends tend to be men. That means women may have to volunteer more often to enter a leadership path.

“Also, although this is not universally true, women – and now some men as well – who have young families may not be comfortable putting time into leadership volunteerism,” adds Dr. Martone. “And because it takes a long time to work your way up to the highest-level positions like serving on the AAO Board, if you get a late start, there may not be enough time to make it that far.” *

Dr. Martone soon found opportunities to address other aspects of the women in leadership issue after becoming the chair of the Task Force on Women Orthodontists, which the HOD established in 2018.

One of the first initiatives of the task force was to plan a new event, the Women Orthodontists Networking Session**, featuring speakers and networking time, for the 2019 Annual Session in Los Angeles. The event sold out even before the AAO had the opportunity to publicize it widely.

Raising Women’s Visibility at Annual Session Speaker Podiums
The task force also examined meeting lecture programs. Gaining experience in the academic world as an orthodontic faculty member at her alma mater, Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Martone became aware of women in the specialty who, she believed, should be high-profile meeting lecturers.

“While members of our task force knew there were many women in the specialty who were well-qualified to lecture at a meeting like Annual Session, there were few women’s names on the Doctors Program lecture schedule,” she says.

The task force began working with Annual Session planning committees, which recruit speakers far in advance, to encourage them to identify qualified female speakers. The AAO also set up an online speaker application portal open to any orthodontist, while encouraging women to apply. Female speakers gradually increased, with the 2021 Doctors Scientific Program featuring 26 female speakers of 147 total. In 2019, the program had 10 women speakers. The 2021 Collaborative Concepts for Doctors/Team and Orthodontic Team programs feature a diverse group of both orthodontic and lay speakers.

The Task Force on Women Orthodontists also addressed ways to make Annual Session attendance more comfortable for women and families. In 2019, the “Mothers and Family Room,” was introduced, available to moms who need a quiet, private area to nurse their babies or pump. Parents needing to attend to other needs of young children could also use the space. This amenity, now called the Family Lounge, will return at the 2021 Annual Session.

In 2019, the Task Force on Women Orthodontists became the Special Committee on Women Orthodontists. Dr. Martone continued to lead the group, which expanded its focus to explore development of additional programs to support female AAO members.

“We are working on plans for webinars on topics like salary negotiation and leadership skills,” she says. “We also are looking forward to working with the new Inclusion and Engagement Task Force as it explores ways to support all diverse AAO members, including racial minorities and orthodontists from other countries who practice or teach in the United States.”

Dr. Martone’s advice to colleagues interested in AAO leadership is simple: “Get involved. It is very rewarding to be in leadership and enjoyable to meet colleagues whom you might not get to know otherwise.

“Don’t worry about whether you are qualified for a position that is open to volunteers,” Dr. Martone continues. “It may be easy to think, ‘I can’t serve on my constituent’s insurance committee because I’m not an expert on insurance.’ Chances are, though, that the people on the committee learned most of what they know about insurance by serving. So, if you’re interested in a leadership role, go ahead and try for it.”

** In 2020, the AAO Board created at-large trustee positions to enable diverse members, including women and/or younger members to be part of senior AAO leadership. Drs. Dale Anne Featheringham and Alex Thomas are currently serving in those positions.

** On Saturday, June 26 during the
2021 Annual Session, join the Special Committee on Women Orthodontists at 8 a.m. for a lecture by Joanne Lipman, “Developing a Healthy, Inclusive Workplace: Process and Measures,” a Featured Lecture in the All Team series. Ms. Lipman is the author of THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them). Following the lecture, from 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., attend the Women Orthodontists Networking Session and Reception. Ms. Lipman will be joining us during the networking session and reception.