Women in medicine have been historically underrepresented in the medical field--but why exactly is that? Here are some of the most prevalent reasons:
"Unconscious" gender and maternal bias against women in medicine is prevalent, affecting their hiring, promotions, and wellbeing. Countless studies and personal experiences of many women have continually demonstrated that women are less likely to be hired and/or promoted because of their gender. Women are also less likely to be offered leadership positions due to the assumptions that they are also handling the caring role that comes with having children, or they will end up working part time to take care of children at some point in the future. Many employers attempt to use this justification as grounds for hiring married women less frequently. Research has also found that workplace discrimination against women physicians is common, as women have reported not only receiving lower pay, but being disrespected by colleagues, being held to a higher standards than their male peers, being treated more informally than men (e.g. being introduced by first names rather than professional titles), and not being invited to some work events such as conferences abroad.
Family leave policies are usually discussed discreetly which may cause supervisors to encourage shorter leave or lead women to take shorter leaves to be perceived as better workers--both of which can ultimately lower physicians’ motivation, increase burnout, and hurt retention.
Insufficient policies and programs in medical centers and clinics to support child rearing. For instance, daycare facilities often have year-long wait periods. Women in medicine also need to bear the greater burden of other domestic duties, with one study finding that women were spending 8.5 hours more per week on parenting and domestic tasks than their male peers, even after adjusting for spousal employment status and numerous other factors. In addition, women are more likely to care for their ill family members than men, leading many women physicians to become triple-duty caregivers.
Sexual harassment. The literature on workplace harassment suggests that such experiences are more common in hierarchical and male-dominated fields like medicine. Along with facing sexual harassment from colleagues, women physicians are also more likely to experience harassment from patients. Sexual harassment may be underreported because of fear of stigmatization by colleagues, and it has been shown to reduce productivity and increase the risk of burnout.
What can we do?
Institute family-friendly policies. Strong family leave policies can help ensure that physicians are not faced with a black and white choice between career and family. Policies like at least 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, private breastfeeding rooms for the first year after women return to work since having a child, increased flexibility, and on-site childcare services such as daycare facilities would strongly facilitate women’s ability to juggle their work and family lives with minimal stress and risk to either.
Mitigate bias, discrimination, and sexual harassment. Training in implicit bias (particularly to members of search and hiring committees) can help address gender-based prejudice, particularly when it moves beyond recognition of bias and toward strategies to address bias when it arises. Certain programs, like Bias Interrupters for Managers training, have been very well received by academic institutions because they are dispassionate, evidence-based, and allow people to brainstorm ways to overcome common patterns of bias in the future. This program encourages using a survey to uncover bias in locations like hiring, mentoring, and compensation, so that institutions can develop concrete strategies.
Additionally, people must be able to speak up about harassment without fearing what negative affect it will have on their work life and employment status. Medical schools and other organizations should implement online reporting systems to reduce time taken to process sexual harassment requests and allow such situations to be handles with the necessary discretion.
Provide legal assistance for family responsibilities discrimination. Family Responsibilities Discrimination, also called caregiver discrimination, is employment discrimination against workers based on their family caregiving responsibilities. Stronger emphasis should be placed on adhering to legal requirements regarding employment policies, official or unofficial, and anybody affected by this type of discrimination should be more aware of how to tackle this in a legal setting to produce the best outcome.
There is a long road to go to eradicate gender-based discrimination in the workplace, but with such strategies, everybody will be able to have a level playing field and be presented with the same opportunities.
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