Survey Suggests Half of Female Surgeons in the UK Experience or Witness Workplace Discrimination 


A recent study suggests that many female surgeons in the UK think their profession is hostile to women by several metrics, and that the majority have experienced or witnessed sexism in their workplace.

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that In October 2017, the authors of the new report, published in BMJ Open, posted a confidential survey on Twitter and in a Facebook group for women of The Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland to respond to.

What the small survey of 81 participants suggests is that female surgeons often feel marginalized in their profession. The Guardian cites NHS England’s numbers from 2018 which documented that more women than men are beginning their first foundation year of medical training (1,138 women to 959 men). Yet only 14.5 percent of consultants (a senior physician who practices a medical specialty) are women.

The survey found that 88 percent of respondents said they felt surgery to be a male-dominated field, and 53 percent said that trauma and orthopedic surgery was sexist, the highest percentage of any surgical specialty. The London Economic reported that six out of ten respondents said they had experienced or witnessed discrimination against women in the workplace.

Women working in cardiothoracic and general surgery reported much lower instances of workplace sexism—16 percent and 13 percent, respectively, characterized their workplace as sexist.

The survey sheds light on what could be additional barriers for women surgeons, per The Guardian:

“When it came to barriers for women, 34 percent said they felt the surgery profession did not make motherhood or a family life very likely, while 16% said it felt like an “old boys’ club”. The same proportion raised childcare issues, while 10 percent flagged unsocial working hours as a barrier. More than a quarter said that other specialisms offered a better work-life balance.”

The study found that the main perceived barriers for women in surgical professions were “a lack of formal mentorship, inflexibility towards part-time careers, gender stereotypes and poor work-life balance.”

The Guardian notes that “the study was small and reached only a subset of surgeons, and there could also have been bias in who answered the survey.” Scarlett McNally, a consulting orthopedic surgeon at a hospital in Eastbourne who has practiced surgery for 25 years told The Guardian that the research agreed with her experience of the field. “This is exactly what women surgeons are saying and feeling,” McNally said.

McNally went on to point out that such power imbalances are in no way unique to her profession. “In all specialities, structures should be improved to make it easier for women and men—or the second parent—to take shared parental leave or less-than-full-time training. This would not only improve life for these doctors, but also show future cohorts that this is possible.”

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