MeToo and medicine: Is male fear hurting female careers?
Women in the medical field are used to facing barriers as they try to advance their careers. New research says they’re now facing a new obstacle as a direct result of the #MeToo movement.
MeToo began as a movement against sexual assault and harassment of women. It has since grown to include employment discrimination and other forms of institutionalized sexism.
High-profile figures such as Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have seen their careers destroyed as a result of sexual misconduct allegations. Cosby was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced last month to prison time, while Weinstein’s case is ongoing.
According to a research paper published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, men in positions of power in medicine are concerned they could be falsely accused of similar offences.
To safeguard themselves against this possibility, some of these men have decided to stop meeting with women they do not know, or to stop meeting with women individually altogether.
Earlier this year, an American survey found that 30 per cent of male managers reported being uncomfortable working alone with a woman.
One in six male managers said they felt uncomfortable mentoring women – about triple the level who said so before the #MeToo movement spread.
While this is an issue affecting many industries, the paper’s authors say it is particularly problematic in medicine, where women make up nearly half of all med school graduates but a much smaller proportion of leadership roles.
“When someone takes you under their wing; when someone is thinking about you and their career and thinks of you when opportunities arise, that’s how you move forward in academic medicine,” Sophie Soklaridis, the paper’s lead author and the interim director of research at the Canadian Mental Health Association, told CTVNews.ca Wednesday.
“Women actually don’t have as much access to men in these positions of power, and so they’re not thought of as often.”
As Soklaridis sees it, the fear of false sexual allegations may be used as an excuse to mask other fears.
The study’s authors say the only way to put medicine back on a path toward gender equity is for men to question the fears that lead them to shutting out prospective female mentees in the first place.
“When men say they are scared to mentor women, they may really be saying that they fear losing advantages in the workplace,” the study reads.
“Some men feel that gender equity puts them at a disadvantage, that women’s advancement could come only at their expense. They are afraid they will lose their privileged status and will have more difficult advancing in their careers.”
The study stops short of prescribing a surefire remedy for the problem, but does note that the American College of Physicians has suggested the profession could make strides toward gender equity by promoting leadership development programs, implicit bias training and pay transparency.
“Stop thinking that it’s going to happen organically, because it’s not,” Soklaridis said.