Current Status of Women in Medicine

On February 11, the United Nations celebrated the 3rd International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In support of this day, Annual Reviews released a special collection of articles featuring women scientists who are not only experts in their respective fields, but also fearless advocates for the advancement of women and underrepresented minorities in science and medicine. Similarly, the Femmes of STEM podcast and website highlight historical lady scientists in an effort to combat the false narrative that women and minorities are newcomers to STEM fields.

Despite steady gains made by female scientists in recent history, women in science and medicine still face challenging career obstacles, as outlined in this Nature news story. To better understand the current state of women in medicine, the AAMC published detailed graphs and statistics for 2015-2016, which can be found here. While stats are important to inform on the status quo, this Slate article by molecular biologist and science advocate Maryam Zaringhalam reminds us to not lose focus on the underrepresented people working to change the system. 

Gender Bias in Authorship, Reviewing, & Choosing a Field of Study

Recently, several studies have explored how gender bias affects different aspects of science. A Nature Index study showed that fewer women have last name authorship in top journals. A Sage study covered by Inside Higher Education found that a discipline’s perceived gender bias is the key factor in whether women decide to major in it. A 2013 Nature news article detailed global disparities in science, outlining data from a Nature study that examined the relationship between gender and output, collaboration, and impact. Data was collected globally and across disciplines, revealing that women were underrepresented across nearly all countries and disciplines. Dr. Ben Barres wrote this influential Nature piece analyzing the oft-asked question, "Does gender matter?", and attacking the discriminatory hypothesis that the lack of representation of women in science is due to innate inability. 

A Nature news article explained the findings of a recent study by Holly Witteman and colleagues, which showed that gender bias in grant reviews disappears when the reviewers focus on the science rather than the investigator. This finding is complemented by both an Edge for Scholars commentary and a previous study which found that men are approximately 7% more likely to receive grant funding than their female colleagues. A Science report by Donna Ginther et al. revealed similar biases in grant success when applicants' self-identified race or ethnicity was taken into account, posing a particular problem for women of color.

Analyzing the Wage Gap in Science in Medicine

A recent Nature News study of 1,200 US graduates suggests that family and choice of doctoral fields may partially explain why women earn less than men post-PhD. Controlling for differences in academic field, women made 11% less than male counterparts. However, an un-married, childless woman earned on average the same annual salary as a man following doctoral training, which highlights additional, unintended trade-offs for having a family as a woman in science. Claudia Buchmann and Anne McDaniel explore motherhood and wages in professional professional occupations here. Bruce Weinberg and colleagues have systematically broken down the contributions of various factors to the gender wage gap in STEM training in this publication. A recent story by CNN Money highlights the current status of the wage gap for women in medicine, and explains how it may be getting worse. This study by the U.S. Census Bureau more closely examines the parental gender wage gap in the United States. 

Women, Leadership, & the "Leaky Pipeline"

For the first time ever, the majority of medical school matriculants are women, as noted by a recent AAMC news post. However, this is only the first step in increasing representation and success of women in medical fields. A study published in Academic Medicine followed faculty for 17 years and found that gender disparities in rank, retention, and leadership existed across career trajectories, especially at senior levels. Another Academic Medicine study found that only 15% of medical school deans or interim dean positions are held by women, illustrating that gender stereotypes still affect the number and roles of women in decanal positions. Furthermore, female scientists are less likely to be invited speakers at prominent international conferences, as shown by a study published in the Journal of Virology. Similarly, a recent study by Christine Nittrouer et al. demonstrated that men were more likely to be colloquium speakers at prestigious universities, even after controlling for the gender and rank of available speakers. A study published by the Journal of Women's Health found that differential formality in speaker introductions is also a point of importance, strengthened by an Annals of Surgery manuscript focusing on the significance and impact of gender-fair language.

Our Future: Resources for Women in Medicine & Science

Groups such as BiasWatchNeuro were founded in order to encourage more conference organizers to make a conscious effort to include diverse panels and speakers to be more representative of the scientific field. Over 20,000 women in STEM and supporters from more than 100 countries support 500 Women Scientists, a grassroots organization that pledges to build an inclusive scientific community dedicated to training a more diverse group of future leaders in science, with the overarching goal to bridge divides and enhance global diplomacy. The blog Vanguard STEM offers a place for women on color in STEM fields to share their work, experiences, and general wisdom. 

This blog post by Dr. Becca (@doc_becca) describes the actions taken when she was initially denied tenure, and how she turned that situation around to achieve tenure status. For more in-depth advice, check out Ellen Daniell's book Every Other Thursday: Stories and Strategies from Successful Women Scientists, available here. A recent interview with Dr. Rebecca Burdine, published as part of an eLife collection called Scientist & Parent, offers some insight and advice for women scientists who are or who wish to be parents on "finding joy in the balancing act." 

In order to better tackle the problems faced by women in science in medicine, we must first share our stories of sexism and challenges we have faced. This Nature article  by Tricia Serio outlines how subtle microaggressions against women add up to a large problem. Dr. Serio also created this website to encourage women to share their stories (anonymously). Additionally, anyone who considers themselves underrepresented and is willing to respond to journalists on deadline is encourages to join Diverse Sources, a searchable database of underrepresented experts in STEM fields. The Diverse Sources database aims to provide journalists with sources from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, thereby improving the coverage of women and other underrepresented minorities in STEM.

Resources for Allies

In order to achieve true equality, women in science in medicine will require the support of allies. There are many ways allies can support the progress of women (and other underrepresented minorities) in STEM fields, such as through sponsorship and consciously including female sources in publications. As described in this Scientific American opinion piece, one of the best ways to help women in science and medicine is to listen. Another way allies can better support women is to be aware of microaggressions and the subtle sexist remarks that often are not acknowledged in daily situations, as outlined by this Nature piece; be aware of the language you and your colleagues use, it may make a far bigger impact than you realize. 

When putting together panels, seminar series, and other events or publications, utilize tools such as the Request a Woman Scientist tool and Diverse Sources, a searchable database of underrepresented experts in the areas of science, health, and the environment.