Women Speakers Underrepresented at Medical Conferences but Numbers on Rise

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The proportion of women speakers at medical conferences increased between 2007 and 2017 but continues to be well below 50%, reflecting continued underrepresentation of women in medicine generally, according to an analysis in JAMA Network Open.

“[T]he perceived gender gap in speakers at physician conferences likely represents the overall gender gap in academic medicine rather than a bias specific to conferences,” wrote Shannon M. Ruzycki, M.D., of the University of Calgary and colleagues.

Ruzycki and colleagues analyzed meeting programs and faculty lists of medical and surgical meetings in 2007 and from 2013 through 2017. Each list of names was analyzed using a validated web-based tool that can identify names in a text-based document and predict whether the first name belongs to a woman. The proportion of women speakers was compared with the average proportion of practicing physicians in the United States and in Canada.

There were 701 meeting programs available for analysis. Of those, 82 meetings (12%) had more than 50% women speakers. In addition, the average proportion of conference speakers who were women significantly increased from 2007 to 2017—24.6% to 34.1%.

The mean proportion of women physicians practicing in the United States and Canada saw a similar increase, from 26.1% in 2007 to 32.4% in 2015 (the last year for which data on the sex of practicing physicians were available, according to the study authors).

Ruzycki and colleagues noted that the presence of women role models in careers dominated by men can increase the engagement of young women.

“Exposure to female speakers at medical conferences may be a means of encouraging female medical students and residents to choose specialties that have historically been male dominated,” they wrote. “Strategies to promote inclusivity of female speakers at academic conferences may therefore represent an important opportunity to influence gender equity within medicine.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Panel Discusses Obstacles Facing Women in Medicine.”

(Image: iStock/piranka)

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