UK report highlights challenges faced by women in academic medicine

October 18, 2004

Brussels, 15 Oct 2004

The British Medical Association (BMA) has published a report on the difficulties faced by women pursuing careers in academic medicine. Problems were found to be related to career routes, a lack of acceptance and career breaks.

The BMA is aware that academic medicine is failing to attract and retain women, and that women are under-represented as clinical researchers, full time academics and heads of departments. The Association therefore organised two focus groups in order to look into the issues involved.

The number of women attending the focus groups, at 26, was low. However, many of the opinions expressed by those present were supported by other attendees.

Many of the women who attended the focus groups had not adhered to the mainstream career route for a variety of reasons. It was felt that this unconventional career progression should be regarded as an advantage as it illustrates the women's level of dedication and motivation in pursuing an academic career. However, many felt that their alternative route had been viewed negatively by male colleagues, who often took a more traditional, direct career route.

The BMA report also notes the existence of different approaches to academic careers in men and women, and how these approaches are viewed by the other sex: 'Men are perceived to be more career orientated, ambitious and able to 'negotiate the system', whilst women are less assertive, lateral thinkers. Some participants suggested that on the whole, women have better communication skills and are able to juggle more tasks and responsibilities than their male colleagues. However, the ability to multi-task is often perceived as being a disadvantage for women, as it detracts from a clear and direct career path. [...Where] women are seen to be more assertive and career-minded, they are often described as 'scary', whilst 'focused' denotes the same qualities in a man. These perceptions impact significantly on the progression of women in academic medicine.'

A further difficulty experienced by some women was re-entering the workforce after taking a career break for caring commitments. Measures of academic success often do not take such career breaks into account, leaving women with the disadvantage of gaps in their CVs.

The women attending the BMA focus groups identified a definite 'glass ceiling' to senior posts in academic medicine for women, and it was suggested that university departments should be made more accountable.

Some of the problems identified at the focus groups were not gender-specific, but apply to working in academic medicine in general. Those working in the field often feel that they are being pulled in the direction of 'clinician' or 'academic', and that it is increasingly difficult to be both, according to the report.

The report recognises the need for further research to support the findings of this study, in particular for quantitative research on the under-representation of women in academic medicine. This should be done as a matter of urgency, concludes the report. To access the report, please visit: http:/// enacademic/$file/Women.pdf

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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