Why Bias Occurs
Reasons for gender bias are multifactorial. By the time an otolaryngologist has completed his or her training and is ready to establish a career in clinical and/or research practice, he or she is also at the stage of life where it’s common to have children. “Although both men and women have children, in the vast majority of cases, women in all professions bear the bulk of the effort in raising them,” Dr. Chandrasekhar said.
Explore This IssueMay 2019
A majority of women, despite dedication to their careers, decrease their academic and research productivity during this time in order to effectively juggle home and work responsibilities. Men, on the other hand, don’t usually make that change at work. “This results in a disparity in scholarly productivity early in women’s careers that benefits men in terms of promotion, research funding, and industry support—while hurting women,” Dr. Chandrasekhar said. “Women actually not only catch up but surpass men [in scholarly productivity] when their children are older but, unfortunately, many chairs and deans choose to be unaware of this, so women consistently lose out” (Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;148:215–222; Laryngoscope. 2013;123:1865–1875).
Other reasons for gender bias, according to Kathleen Yaremchuk, MD, MSA, chair of the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, might be a lack of mentorship for women in research, women being committed to clinical and educational services and therefore lacking dedicated research time, and individuals in leadership positions believing that women are not serious in their academic medicine careers.
Academic leaders and key opinion leaders are chosen based on metrics such as research funding, scholarly productivity, and industry support. “If there is gender bias in achieving these three metrics, then women who are victims of gender bias in funding, productivity, and support will obviously fall out of the leadership pipeline, leaving fewer and sometimes no women in consideration for leadership roles,” said Dr. Chandrasekhar.
Dr. Farzal believes that a diversity of perspectives and approaches in academic medicine are needed to advance the profession. “We may lose valuable insight into our field if we discredit a female surgeon or scientist,” she said. “On a large scale, if we don’t support the growth and professional development of female surgeons, who year after year become a greater percentage of the specialty, we hold back the whole otolaryngology field.”
Regarding the impact on a female otolaryngologist’s academic career path, adequate research support and funding are stepping stones toward tenure and promotion to higher professorship ranks, particularly for individuals on academic tracks, Dr. Farzal said. Similarly, grant funding and research productivity carry heavy weight in academic job interviews. “Sex bias in research funding or support can be detrimental for women’s career trajectories and has the potential of locking them out of the highest-ranked positions,” she added.
Jennifer A. Villwock, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, pointed out that women may be dissuaded from remaining in academics long term if they repeatedly fail to secure research funding. “If it seems that certain groups are excluded from these opportunities, some women may disengage from actively participating in sponsoring organizations,” she said. “A perceived lack of recognition for worthy efforts could also create disillusionment and potentially contribute to burnout.”