By Clover Hemans BScN, MD, MScQIPS, CCFP, FCFP, Co-Chair, OMA Women
The corridors of power are firmly buttressed by the pillars of patriarchy—this includes medicine. It is 2021. Despite that fact that in 2017, more women enrolled in medical school than men (50.7% vs 49.8%), the numbers certainly do not equal gender equity success. The pandemic certainly has not helped. What can we do about this? What is the hold up?
This is the message I would like to convey. There is no better time than now to build coalitions, reach out to peers and allies from all realms and blast through the obstacles preventing all women from achieving their full potential. This should be done using an intersectional lens.
Ubiquitous power imbalance, intrinsic to the patriarchy imbues in all segments of society—academic, corporate, justice, social welfare, and most definitely medicine. We must resist the inclination to decline taking about uncomfortable issues such as patriarchy, privilege and discrimination based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, disability status and other intersectional factors. Privilege is the “unearned advantage of an unequal, invisible system.”1
Patriarchy can be defined as “a social system in which power is held by men, through cultural norms and customs that favour men and withhold opportunities for women.”2
This describes our much of our current society. Furthermore, men benefit/have privilege from being male whether they want to or not, even when they are not being actively sexist. An example of this was seen in research using identical, fake resumes with names modified to influence race and gender stereotypes. Men were deemed more hireable, women more likeable. Black and Hispanic contenders were rated less competent and less hireable than White and Asian sounding candidates.3
Women in medicine are not exempt from the current pandemic home/career complication. Childcare and the “second shift” of household duties are still largely considered a women’s problem. Many women have had to make significant changes to their work and their work output. Academic papers and research have suffered with the disproportional affect the pandemic has had on women. These “outputs” have stalled significantly, and with that goes opportunities for promotion, increased pay and increased power and prestige—things men take for granted.
Throughout Canada, for example, there are only four women deans of medicine and from that small sample, only one is a woman of colour. This past year will affect long-term academic promotion.
In the area of gender, the gender pay gap and opportunities for senior leadership, women lag markedly behind. In Canada, it is more difficult to determine gender and race in leadership because we simply do not measure this metric. Fortunately, 2020 was the year that the gender pay gap was measured in Ontario by the OMA and nationally in a paper by Drs. Michelle Cohen and Tara Kiran.
These papers on the gender pay gap were welcome data since the myth of women not working hard enough or long enough was firmly debunked. Systemic biases were uncovered—again based on deep-seated patriarchal and socialized norms. Measuring and reporting of gender and race in leadership, remuneration and job appointments is a start, but what will it take to stop the stall of equity for women in leadership?
Recognizing that socialization of our children starts early, starts with all of us, and contributes to perpetuating gender stereotypes and intersectional biases, we know talking about it alone will not change behaviour. Appealing to emotions alone does not change overall behaviours. We need actions that beget movement. The “second shift” at home should not come with a pink ribbon.
We must put women at every table where decisions are made. To do this, here is my call to action which can be achieved over the next 12 months.
I urge women physicians to choose at least one or two of these actions that resonate with you. Talking alone will not change behaviour.
Again, I reiterate that there is still no better time than now to build coalitions and reach out to peers and allies from all realms with the aim of blasting through obstacles preventing all women from achieving their full potential. These actions have boundless power when rendered through an intersectional lens.