Where Women’s Voices Still Get Heard Less
Despite some gains, new research shows ongoing gender imbalances in hematology and oncology, as reflected in the predominantly male presenters at board review lecture series – where early career faculty are also underrepresented.
“Our study provides the first analysis of gender and early career faculty disparities in speakers at hematology and medical oncology board review meetings,” the authors reported in research published in Blood Advances.
“We covered six major board reviews over the last 5 years that are either conducted yearly or every other year, [and] the general trend across all meetings showed skewness toward men speakers,” the authors reported.
Recent data from 2021 suggests a closing of the gender gap in oncology, with women making up 44.6% of oncologists in training. However, they still only represented 35.2% of practicing oncologists and are underrepresented in leadership positions in academic oncology, the authors reported.
With speaking roles at academic meetings potentially marking a key step in career advancement and improved opportunities, the authors sought to investigate the balance of gender, as well as early career faculty among speakers at prominent hematology and/or oncology board review lecture series taking place in the United States between 2017 and 2021.
The five institutions and one society presenting the board review lecture series included Baylor College of Medicine/MD Anderson Cancer Center, both in Houston; Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, Boston; George Washington University, Washington; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York; Seattle Cancer Care Alliance; and the hematology board review series from the American Society of Hematology.
During the period in question, among 1,224 board review lectures presented, women constituted only 37.7% of the speakers. In lectures presented by American Board of Internal Medicine–certified speakers (n = 1,016, 83%), women were found to have made up fewer than 50% of speakers in five of six courses.
Men were also more likely to be recurrent speakers; across all courses, 13 men but only 2 women conducted 10 or more lectures. And while 35 men gave six or more lectures across all courses, only 12 women did so.
The lecture topics with the lowest rates of women presenters included malignant hematology (24.8%), solid tumors (38.9%), and benign hematology lectures (44.1%).
“We suspected [the imbalance in malignant hematology] since multiple recurrent roles were concentrated in the malignant hematology,” senior author Samer Al Hadidi, MD, of the Myeloma Center, Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AK, said in an interview.
He noted that “there are no regulations that such courses need to follow to ensure certain proportions of women and junior faculty are involved.”
Early Career Faculty
In terms of early career representation, more than 50% of lectures were given by faculty who had received their initial certifications more than 15 years earlier. The median time from initial certification was 12.5 years for hematology and 14 years for medical oncology.
The findings that more than half of the board review lectures were presented by faculty with more than 15 years’ experience since initial certification “reflects a lack of appropriate involvement of early career faculty, who arguably may have more recent experience with board certification,” the authors wrote.
While being underrepresented in such roles is detrimental, there are no regulations that such courses follow to ensure certain proportions of women and junior faculty are involved, Al Hadidi noted.
Equal Representation Remains Elusive
The study does suggest some notable gains. In a previous study of 181 academic conferences in the United States and Canada between 2007 and 2017, the rate of women speakers was only 15%, compared with 37.7% in the new study.
And an overall trend analysis in the study shows an approximately 10% increase in representation of women in all of the board reviews. However, only the ASH hematology board review achieved more than 50% women in their two courses.
“Overall, the proportion of women speakers is improving over the years, though it remains suboptimal,” Al Hadidi said.
The authors noted that oncology is clearly not the only specialty with gender disparities. They documented a lack of women speakers at conferences involving otolaryngology head and neck meetings, radiation oncology, emergency medicine, and research conferences.
They pointed to the work of ASH’s Women in Hematology Working Group as an important example of the needed effort to improve the balance of women hematologists.
Ariela Marshall, MD, director of women’s thrombosis and hemostasis at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia and a leader of ASH’s Women in Hematology Working Group, agreed that more efforts are needed to address both gender disparities as well as those of early career speakers. She asserted that the two disparities appear to be connected.
“If you broke down gender representation over time and the faculty/time since initial certification, the findings may mirror the percent of women in hematology-oncology at that given point in time,” Marshall said in an interview.
“If an institution is truly committed to taking action on gender equity, it needs to look at gender and experience equity of speakers,” she said. “Perhaps it’s the time to say ‘X has been doing this review course for 15 years. Let’s give someone else a chance.’
“This is not even just from a gender equity perspective but from a career development perspective overall,” she added. “Junior faculty need these speaking engagements a lot more than senior faculty.”
Meanwhile, the higher number of female trainees is a trend that ideally will be sustained as those trainees move into positions of leadership, Marshall noted.
“We do see that over time, we have achieved gender equity in the percent of women matriculating to medical school. And my hope is that, 20 years down the line, we will see the effects of this reflected in increased equity in leadership positions such as division/department chair, dean, and hospital CEO,” she said. “However, we have a lot of work to do because there are still huge inequities in the culture of medicine (institutional and more broadly), including gender-based discrimination, maternal discrimination, and high attrition rates for women physicians, compared to male physicians.
“It’s not enough to simply say ‘well, we have fixed the problem because our incoming medical student classes are now equitable in gender distribution,’ ”
The authors and Marshall had no disclosures to report.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.
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