Female clinicians less likely to participate at medical conferences

medical education

By Selina Wellbelove

17 Aug 2021

Women are less likely than men to participate at medical conferences, even with gender-balanced delegates, but measures can be taken to encourage female inclusion, concludes new research published in The Lancet. 

The study looked at female participation at the UK Society for Endocrinology’s (SfE) annual national conference in 2017 and 2018, the speciality having been chosen as just 35% of consultants in endocrinology are women despite gender parity at training grades.

Led by Dr Victoria Salem, a senior clinical research fellow in the Section of Investigative Medicine at Imperial College London, the researchers found that while the audience was gender balanced at the conference in 2017, just 24% of all questions and comments came from female delegates.

Furthermore, of the questions asked by women 48% came from session chairs, compared to only 30% of the questions asked by men at the conference.

Before the SfE’s 2018 conference, the research team carried out an intervention to increase female inclusion in the event, via emails requesting the invitation of more female society members to chair sessions, and that chairs offer opening questions to a female audience member where possible.

The authors say this intervention led to more sessions being chaired by at least one woman in conference, with the number of male-only chaired sessions dropping from 47% in 2017 to 34% in 2018.

Also, the proportion of questions from women (35%) was significantly greater than in 2017 (24%), but the proportion coming from session chairs did not change 45% and 48%, respectively. “Based on these observations, we suggest that more female chairs resulted in an increase in female audience questions,” the authors note.

A qualitative analysis of session transcripts also revealed gendered differences in the style and content of questions. For example, 11.4% of questions from a female audience were blindly judged to be expressively empathic compared with 2·6% from a male audience, and women tended to raise specific patient experiences and gendered implications of data.

Overall, the research suggests that while women are still under-represented at medical conferences, interventions can have a positive impact on female inclusion.

“These findings should be considered in the future planning of academic conferences. If women are not visible at conferences, they cannot act as role models for junior academics, creating a self-perpetuating cycle,” the authors conclude.

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