It is a well-known fact that women are underrepresented in leadership positions in medicine, whether it is department heads, administrative roles or college professors.
This is a norm despite the fact that women represent a higher percentage than men in medical schools. Even though that number is progressively increasing, there is a set culture that hasn’t changed.
It has been hundreds of years (156 years to be exact) since Elizabeth Garrett Anderson made history as the first women to qualify as a physician and surgeon, yet women are still more likely to be called by their first names and not their titles, sometimes even by people who are below them in hierarchy.
Although sexism and discrimination laws are a step in the right direction, the root of the problem lies in social attitudes. A video campaign lead by the charity ‘Inspiring the Future’ highlighted this perfectly.
Its video campaign ‘Redraw the balance’ video showed a group of five to seven-year-olds drawing pictures of firefighters, surgeons and fighter pilots. Of the 66 pictures drawn, only five of them were women. This suggests something deep-rooted in the ignorance of society.
The differences between how male and female medics are treated are subtle, but real: the way patients speak to you; the way your colleagues assess your skills. The subtleties are easy to excuse away one by one, but they eventually add up.
There was a paper published in Heart last year looking at sexism experienced by consultant cardiologists in the UK which concluded that female cardiologists experience more sexism and sexual harassment than male cardiologists, with a significant impact on career progression and professional confidence.
Now we can sit for hours and talk about sexism in medicine and the lack of gender equality, but without serious measures in place we are fighting a lost battle.
There should be zero tolerance to any behaviour. Women should be encouraged to speak up and address such attitude.
I personally will always say something definitive to avoid any further escalation of inexcusable behaviour, such as “this is not acceptable” and “I would appreciate if you did not do that again”. Be firm and know what the next step is for you. Escalate things if needs be.
Maysah Salman is an ST4 in cardiology based in the Northern Ireland health service