When Dr Matire Harwood was a teen, she was the first girl to renounce her small, country school’s suggestion that she – and other female students – should take typing, rather than physics or science in their senior years.
Three other girls followed her lead that year, and all have gone on to success in the field of science. A mother of two and a GP in a community medical centre in South Auckland, Dr Harwood also teaches at the University of Auckland’s Medical School and conducts influential medical research, her focus bettering health outcomes for everyone, but Māori and Pacific New Zealanders in particular.
The determination displayed in her school days was an early indication of her commitment to recognising and challenging bias detrimental not only to the people she serves but also to women pursuing careers in medicine.
“Along the way you notice there are opportunities for your male colleagues that aren’t offered to you, Dr Harwood says. “I’ve had female surgeons say there’s bonding that goes on with the male surgeons that the women don’t get … just those institutionalised areas that can privilege some over others.”
Like the considerable impact she’s had on improving shortfalls in the health system, Harwood is big on tangible solutions. When awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship in 2017, she used the grant to support other women through their PhDs.
She believes their success to be critical to increasing the number of Māori women who are clinicians and also academics – their research and personal context influencing policy and the way medical professionals everywhere “think and practise”.
“There’s a statistic that says girls’ self-esteem peaks at nine years old. My daughter is nine and I don’t want that to be the case for her, so that’s what motivates me as a mum to make sure she continues to thrive and be the best she can.”