Written by Catie Holshouser ’22
My last blog post highlighted subtle examples of gender biases by showing the different ways men and women introduced each other at a professional oncology conference. A formal introduction included the use of “Dr.” followed by the speaker’s full name or last name. Male introducers were more likely to informally address female speakers than male speakers. In contrast, female introducers formally addressed speakers regardless of gender. I was surprised to learn how differently these men and women addressed each other, because I assumed that professionals always addressed each other professionally. I was even more surprised to learn that the use of a particular introduction could be an example of gender bias. The present study collected additional examples of gender biases and microaggressions that a group of female trainees experienced in their surgical fields.
In the current study, researchers performed both a qualitative and quantitative assessment. The qualitative study included focus groups with 15 female trainees in surgical fields from a health science center. The female trainees were asked questions about different aspects of sexism in the workplace, including objectification, invalidation of women’s experiences, and assumptions of gender roles. Their interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded for themes.
Four main themes emerged based off of the women’s responses: exclusion, adaptation, increased effort, and development of resilience. Exclusion included being encouraged to go into a particular type of medicine. One participant commented “he told us that ladies in the room might want to think about something like pediatrics or family medicine, so that we can be at home and see our children grow up”. Adaptation included learning about and pretending to be interested in subjects that male coworkers were interested in in order to have common topics of conversation, such as football. One trainee commented on increased effort and gave the following example: “When I introduce myself to all my patients, I say ‘I’m Doctor_____’…I feel like when I walk in a room, I have to establish the fact that I’m a doctor and not the nurse.” An example of developing resistance included comments such as “It just doesn’t bother me, I’m tough.”
Of the four themes from the focus groups, I was particularly surprised when reading examples of increased effort. One woman’s example of having to consistently introduce herself as “I’m Doctor…” was surprising because I have seen several female doctors and have never reflected on the significance and intentionality behind this introduction. I always viewed the statement “I’m Doctor…” as a simple greeting.
Researchers also conducted a quantitative study. 33 female trainees participated in a survey where they rated the prevalence and severity of different experiences at work, such as hiding emotions so as not to appear “too emotional” or witnessing a male coworker being praised for group work that a woman contributed to. 18 trainees worked in a female-dominated subspecialty, primarily Ob/Gyn, and 15 worked in a male-dominated subspecialty, such as general surgery.
Based on results from the survey, 80% of trainees in male-dominated fields reported having to change their personality to adapt to the workplace, compared to 39% of trainees in female-dominated spaces. 40% of trainees in male-dominated spaces reported that they wouldn’t recommend their job to future trainees or family, compared to 6% of trainees in female-dominated specialties. This last result was really striking to me. I assumed that long hours and difficult operations were the main stressors that doctors faced. But instances of gender biases are clearly representative of another ongoing pattern that also impacts these women at work.
My last post highlighted informal and formal addresses, which are more subtle forms of gender-related microaggressions. The current study importantly showed that what one may consider to be a subtle language choice, such as “I’m Doctor____” may be an attempt to prevent gender bias. I am continuing to research how women’s representation in leadership roles has changed in clinical psychology. The majority of doctorate degrees in psychology belong to women. How common are these biases for women in a female-dominated social science, specifically women who attend the ABCT? Based on both the current and last study, I can anticipate gender biases still being a problem for female academics in the ABCT, whether it’s the use of an informal introduction or having to increase their own efforts at work.
Barnes, L.K., McGuire, L., Dunivan, G., Sussman, A.L., & McKee, Rohini. (2019). Gender bias experiences of female surgical trainees. Journal of Surgical Education, 76(6),1-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsurg.2019.07.024