Women have made great strides in advancing their careers in medicine, but many experience sexual discrimination in this field. Several women are speaking out and raising awareness about this ongoing issue.
Under federal law gender discrimination in which an employee is treated differently or unfairly based on their gender is illegal.
Gender inequality in medicine has drawn attention and more studies are being conducted to learn more about this problem and enforce actions that will change the field.
A July 2020 study from the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found that “among early-career surgical faculty, 50% of women experienced sexual discrimination, and 38.5% reported gender as a barrier to career advancement.”
Another new study published in February 2021 found that women who show promise early in their academic careers have fewer leadership prospects in the workplace.
A recent international salary survey found that female doctors make 20 to 29 percent less than their male counterparts.
Some of the barriers that women face in the medical workplace are subtle, according to Dr. Adaira Landry, an emergency medicine Physician in Boston. Dr. Landry said she has sometimes been mistaken for a nurse or custodial services worker because her colleagues and patients are not accustomed to seeing a Black female doctor.
It’s not uncommon for pregnant or nursing women to be fired while taking time off for childbearing. A study by Baylor University found that pregnancy discrimination has a negative impact on the mother’s and baby’s health.
Female medical students were 220% more likely to experience sexual harassment than students in non-STEM fields as of June 2019, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and “more than 30% of postdoctoral students in academic medicine had personally experienced harassment, with women of color experiencing even higher rates.”
A CareerBuilder survey reported that 72% of sexual discrimination victims continue to keep quiet for fear of reprisal from their employers.
Dr. Vanessa Grubbs, a Nephrologist and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco said, “I can tell you stories that would curl your hair. A common theme is they’ve been harassed and they complained about it, and then they are bullied out. Bullying is a very common thing as well.”
A Forbes article lists steps, Human resource officers and managers can take.
- Establish a workplace culture with zero tolerance for gender discrimination.
- Provide flexible schedules to accommodate prenatal appointments and/or medical conditions related to pregnancy.
- Keep information channels open and the employee in the loop, specifically with regards to work-family benefits and expectations leading up to leave/returning from leave.
- Normalize breastfeeding in the workplace.
- Keep the dialogue open with an employee about the kind of support a discriminated employee might need.
- Offer education about the legal rights of employees of discrimination and make sure these rights are clearly stated in the company handbook.
- Conduct onsite training sessions to educate employees about gender discrimination, its effects, and how to prevent it.
Opportunities for women in medicine have increased, but there is still work to be done to make the workplace supportive and inclusive. Organizations that put forth efforts will create a positive future for generations of Doctors which will positively affect the care of patients.