Following the publication of a paper I co-authored in BMJ Open on female representation in medical leadership roles, Marie Bismark and I were invited to write a broader piece on female representation in medicine for the Conversation. This was published today and you can read the full piece here.
In brief, the argument we set out is that although women achieved gender parity in medical schools about 15 years ago now, they are still under-represented in formal leadership roles and some specialty areas. As an example, just 6% of orthopaedic surgeons are female.
A popular explanation for this is that it is simply an issue of time lag and if we give it a few years the numbers should even out. Another possible explanation is that there a range of factors that are preventing women from taking on these roles.
In the piece we talk about these factors as perceptions around the three ‘c’s of capability, capacity and credibility. We make it quite clear that we are not arguing that men are solely responsible for keeping women out of these roles and the evidence shows that many gender behaviours are internalised quite early on (this is an interesting article on unconscious gender bias if you haven’t come across the idea before).
Although we do believe there are cultural factors at play here, there are also other structural factors that need attending to if we do want to increase the number of women in these roles. The journey to addressing these issues will be long and any solutions need to be multifaceted.
One fascinating thing about this piece is the number of comments that it has generated over the course of the day. Many are positive, although others are negative, some miss the mark by a long way and others are just abusive. The more abusive ones have been removed by the moderators of the Conversation which in some senses I think is good practice because keeping the comments could be seen as condoning particular forms of behaviours.
Another part of me, however, is a little bit sorry that these comments have been removed and it also seems to have annoyed some of those who took the time to comment and felt they were being “gagged” for disagreeing. In not keeping these posts viewers can’t see the sorts of perspectives that the more extreme end of the spectrum hold on these issues. We have heard these fairly frequently in the course of research interviews about (in the word of one individual) “non-males” in medicine and a range of other forums, so to a degree have been accustomed to these types of views.
I am signed up to comment alerts so they are emailed to me when they are posted and then I think later taken down by the moderator. I have quite the collection of comments relating to things that Marie and I have supposedly advocated for in this article (or “Ms” Dickinson and “Ms” Bismark in the word of one individual – interesting as we both hold doctorates and Marie is also a medical practitioner and we are both Associate Professors – all titles more typically used if we are getting so formal).
You can never please everybody and it is particularly difficult when trying to address a nuanced argument in 800 words or fewer. Many of those not happy with the article don’t agree that this is an issue; it is a “tiresome” topic and we are simply feminists seeing “discrimination where little exists”. Other comments argue against “our” goal of reaching gender parity in the medical professions – a position which is not actually stated at any point in the paper and a perspective I don’t hold and haven’t ever discussed with Marie. Others still point out that we are not advocating for change in nursing where men are underrepresented so can’t have a balanced perspective. Or worry that the things we are suggesting may have negative impacts for an already under-attack group (men) who it is argued are already being frequently overlooked for jobs in favour of less qualified women.
Some of the comments are spot on and help to further develop the argument. I have also had a number of other emails and messages over the course of the day that I will be following up to help us do more work on this topic. The more virulent comments I will live with – they are an unfortunate part of speaking out in the modern age and I have learnt to not take these too seriously. But when I read these comments it does reaffirm to me that the issues we spoke about in the piece are very real and do face women (and many other groups) in their everyday lives.
For this reason I hope to carry on the conversation on this topic and that this can play a very small part in challenging some of the sorts of viewpoints that many of us hear on a regular basis.