BMA aims to end sexism

by Tim Tonkin

Association unveils 10-point plan for employers to sign up to

Location: UK
Published: Monday 6 March 2023

A commitment towards ending sexism and promoting gender equality in the medical profession has today been unveiled by the BMA.

The association’s Ending Sexism in Medicine pledge aims to provide a framework of measures for employers and professional organisations to sign up to, with a view to tackling discrimination in medical education and workplaces.

Multiple organisations have already adopted the pledge including NHS Employers and NHS Providers as well as several medical royal colleges including the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and Royal College of Anaesthetists.

Other groups signed up include the Medical Women’s Federation, Muslim Doctors Association and the advocacy group Melanin Medics.


Everyone suffers

Latifa Patel PATEL: Sexism harms us all

BMA equality lead Latifa Patel welcomed the pledge as an important step towards eradicating sexism in medicine, adding that gender discrimination was something which harmed everyone.

She said: ‘The BMA is proud to lead this pledge for healthcare organisations, uniting them in acting on sexism in medicine. From the moment they enter medicine, medical students and doctors face gender-based discrimination: from structural barriers that impact their career progression to sexist comments from their colleagues and patients.

‘Sexism harms us all, not just holding back individuals, but affecting the care those individuals can offer to patients. This pledge and accompanying 10 goals are a framework that will encourage health organisations to eradicate sexism in all its complexity – especially keeping in mind how characteristics such as race, religion, disability and gender identity can intersect with sexism.

‘We are glad to have the support of so many vital healthcare organisations at the outset and we are looking forward to that number growing as time goes on. By signing up, they are making an important commitment to moving towards a world where no doctor or medical student faces discrimination because of their gender.’


Safe spaces

In calling for the opportunity for all doctors and medical students to be able to work and learn in environments free from discrimination and in which gender has no bearing on career progression or treatment, the pledge sets out a total of 10 goals.

These include:

  • Identify and address structural discrimination and policies that disproportionately impact women’s career and pay progression
  • Establishing robust policies on sexual harassment and codes of conduct within workplaces and medical schools
  • Promoting the benefits of gender diversity in medicine and actively challenging gender stereotypes in medicine
  • Increase the visibility and voices of women and ensure that those in senior positions recognise gender bias in the workplace.

The pledge came about because of long-standing work by the BMA, including the 2021 sexism in medicine survey, the findings of which highlighted the extent to which sexist attitudes and behaviour were present in all parts of the medical profession and NHS.

These include the 91 per cent of women responding to the survey who said that they had experienced sexism at work within the previous two years, and the almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of both men and women who said that sexism acts as a barrier to career progression.


Many voices

Junior doctor Chelcie Jewitt, who played a pivotal role in orchestrating the sexism in medicine survey and founded the campaign group Surviving in Scrubs, welcomed the pledge as an important but by no means final step in the journey towards ending gender discrimination.

She said: ‘Since starting the Surviving in Scrubs campaign with my colleague Becky Cox last year, we have been overwhelmed with the stories submitted by women facing every kind of sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment and even sexual assault in the NHS.

JEWITT: The way forward JEWITT: The way forward

‘Every story is heart-breaking – not only does this kind of endless demeaning of female doctors make their working days so much less bearable, but it is holding back careers, reducing confidence, and wasting so much potential.

‘The BMA’s Ending Sexism in Medicine pledge is a way forward – trusts need to commit not just to stamping out harassment with clear policies and codes of conduct, but also to addressing the myriad ways women are held back by stereotypes in education or poor support of childcare and women’s health.

‘We are bringing as many healthcare organisations as we can together in one joint agreement: that no one in healthcare should be held back because of their gender.’