Gender inequity is pervasive in medicine

Dec 05, 2018

Some deny that it is really an issue while others acknowledge it but don’t think it’s a problem. But it is a real issue that affects everyone. 

Editor’s Note: Physicians Practice’s blog features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for professionals to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The opinions are that of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Physicians Practice or UBM.

Many people think gender workforce disparities are a concern only for women. Some deny that it is really an issue, while still others acknowledge its existence but don’t think it’s a problem. However, gender inequity is pervasive in the medical field and affects everyone.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. The goal of this act was to abolish pay discrepancy based on gender. In 2018, the gender pay gap has yet to be closed, and a recent study shows that it is actually widening among physicians. While there are those who will argue it is due to women working less hours or taking time off to raise children, recent studies controlled for these factors and demonstrated consistently that the gap exists for the same number of hours worked at the same rank. This wage gap is not unique in the medical profession, but the gap for physicians has been shown to be one of the largest.

Other gender inequities that exist in medicine are as follows:

  • Female physicians in academic medicine are less often given faculty promotions or leadership roles, even when they are published at the same or higher rate as male physicians.

  • Women are less often offered speaking opportunities, especially keynotes, grand rounds, and lectureships. 

  • Women are less often the recipients of medical society awards, often receiving zero awards year after year. They are also less likely to receive awards or prizes from government agencies, foundations, and businesses.

  • Women are underrepresented on medical journal editorial boards.  

  • Female physician researchers receive less funding from the government, foundation grants, philanthropy, industry, and venture capital.

  • Sexual harassment has been reported by 1 out of every 3 women in academic medicine.

  • Female physicians often face discriminatory practices while pregnant and taking maternal leave. This discrimination has been well-documented in many areas.

  • Female physicians experience a higher rate of burnout.

  • Last year, women founders received only 2 percent of venture capital funding.

  • Women are paid less by pharmaceutical, device, and biometrics company than men for similar work.

It is obvious that many gender disparities still exist in medicine. But why should everyone care? For one thing, several studies demonstrated that organizations with diverse workforces actually did better financially. Additionally, compared to their male counterparts, female physicians have been demonstrated to have the same or higher clinical outcomes. Intuitively, it makes sense that a happy workforce will be more effective. 

Some will argue that these disparities are based on one of several myths: there are less women, women work less hours, they do not possess leadership skills, or do not want to advance. These myths have now been dispelled by many studies. The fact is there are many equally qualified women who want to rise in the ranks of their career path.

While outright discrimination may not be overt, the implicit bias engrained in the system has the same end results. Many men support ending gender disparities, but this is not enough. Nothing will change until the built-in biases are torn out, and this can only happen at the levels of leadership. Medical societies, hospitals, medical schools, funding sources, medical journals, and anyone in position to shape policy change must take the initiative to examine their own internal policies and create change. Once they have stamped out their own biases, they need to look at the system that perpetuates these disparities at large. Despite the factors listed above, perhaps the best reason to finally end gender disparities is to #BeEthical-it is just the right thing to do. 

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