Dr. Pynnonen believes she has to work much harder than men to obtain opportunities. “It seems like men my age have had many more richer and interesting experiences because they were given to them—which I resent,” she said. She admits, however, that as the primary caregiver to her children, she has had to decline some opportunities such as traveling to meetings to be a presenter. She also believes she has missed out on social events. “One of our male faculty members used to have fun social outings, but he would only invite male residents,” she said.
To do so much hard work and to have someone imply that my achievements might be due to something non-academic was very upsetting. It made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of the position. —Inna Husain, MD
Where Bias Occurs
In his studies of gender bias in otolaryngology, Jean Anderson Eloy, MD, professor and vice chairman of the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark and chairman and chief of service of the department of otolaryngology and facial plastic surgery at Saint Barnabas Medical Center–RWJBarnabas Health in Livingston, N.J., has found a variety of ways in which gender disparity is occurring, and multiple reasons for it.
In an article Drs. Eloy and Chandrasekhar co-authored with others on gender disparities in scholarly productivity within academic otolaryngology departments, the authors found that while men have higher overall research productivity in academic otolaryngology, women demonstrate a different productivity curve. Women produce less research output earlier in their careers than men do, but at senior levels, they equal or exceed men’s research productivity (Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;148:215–222).
Dr. Eloy believes this is because it is challenging for women to take a leave of absence from medical school, residency, or fellowship training to have a child, so many choose to have children early in their career.
The researchers also found that before a woman takes maternity leave, she tends to generate a spike in productivity in clinical work or research. Then, when she returns to work, she tends to work especially hard to make up for the time she was away. “She may feel that she needs to prove herself,” Dr. Eloy said.
The article also provides several reasons for disparities in women’s participation in surgical specialties, such as fewer senior female role models, lack of mentoring (formal or informal) by either men or women to young women considering surgical subspecialization, and concerns about work/life balance. “A lack of female leadership starting at the residency level can lead to women having to work harder to obtain mentorship comparable to their male counterparts,” said Lauren B. Harris, an employment and labor attorney at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C., in St. Louis.