Medical Staff Pulse Newsletter

Celebrating National Women's History Month

In honor of National Women's History Month in March, we are celebrating Cedars-Sinai's talented female leaders with a special Q&A series. This week's interview is with Nicole Leonard, JD, MBA, vice president and associate dean of Research Administration.


Nicole Leonard, JD, MBA

Nicole Leonard, JD, MBA, vice president and associate dean for Research Administration

What type of obstacles did you face in advancing your career in healthcare?

Unconscious bias was manifested in a couple of ways. One is almost a trope at this point—applying negative labels to behaviors by women that would be praised in men. Those behaviors might be called leadership in the case of a man but when they're exhibited by a woman, they're given a negative descriptor.

Another obstacle came when my career progression was tethered to my male peers. I could grow, be promoted and take on additional responsibilities only if my male peers advanced, too.

Also, and this probably is related just to large organizations, but I found it was challenging to break out of the silos and structures that were in place. I often had to make the case for, and advocate for, the creation of a new position because there weren't necessarily positions for the kind of growth that interested me. Often, if no one retired or moved on, there just wasn't an opportunity to fill an existing position. So the challenge for me was to identify a new role that would allow me to grow and advance.

What leadership advice would you give to your younger self?

First, leadership can come in all areas of your life. You don't have to think about leadership as being tied to your job title. We have opportunities to demonstrate and grow our leadership skills across every aspect of our lives, whatever the role you are in at work, in a volunteer organization or in your family. So just remember that you can lead in many ways and don't think that just because you're not in an executive role that you're not a leader.

Second, do not underestimate the importance of relationships and mentorship. As you move ahead in your career or your job, there are many times when you must influence without any official authority, and it's a lot easier to do that when you have strong relationships with people. It makes people more willing to work with you and to hear you. I certainly have experienced relationships that let me share an uncomfortable truth or an uncomfortable bit of feedback that perhaps a person wouldn't have been receptive to if we didn't have a strong enough relationship.

How have things changed or improved for women in the healthcare field during your career?

There is a greater awareness and acknowledgment of some of the biases and structural hurdles that women face. And that's important because when people are aware of, and acknowledge, these things, it's a lot easier to get their behavior to change. For example, I have noticed less inappropriate language in the workplace. I've also noticed intentional consideration for women and diverse participants in committee work and programmatic development and in other opportunities to provide input.