Female representation at Australasian specialty conferences

Lucy J Modra, Danielle E Austin, Sarah A Yong, Emily J Chambers and Daryl Jones
Med J Aust 2016; 204 (10): 385. || doi: 10.5694/mja16.00097

A gender imbalance has been noted at medical conferences internationally, with typically more male than female speakers.1-3

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  • Lucy J Modra1
  • Danielle E Austin2
  • Sarah A Yong3
  • Emily J Chambers1
  • Daryl Jones1

  • 1 Austin Health, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2 Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, NSW
  • 3 Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, VIC


Competing interests:

Lucy Modra, Danielle Austin and Sarah Yong are all members of the Women in Intensive Care Medicine Network.

  • 1. Metaxa V. Is this (still) a man’s world? Crit Care 2013; 17: 112.
  • 2. Castaneda S, Roman-Blas JA, Cohen-Solal M, et al. Is lecturing in Rheumatology Satellite Symposia a male attribute? Rheumatol Int 2014; 34: 287-288.
  • 3. Fesperman SF, West CS, Bischoff CJ, et al. Study characteristics of abstracts presented at the annual meetings of the southeastern section of the American Urological Association (1996-2005). J Urol 2008; 179: 667-671.
  • 4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Medical workforce 2013. Medical practitioners overview tables 2013. Canberra: AIHW, 2014. (accessed Sept 2015).


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access_time 10:58, 7 June 2016
Bryan Walpole

Astonishing conclusions, bordering on political correctness.
Having been on the organising committee for about 50 conferences, the subject of gender of the speaker never entered discussion, as criteria are generally related to the conference themes, practice issues, relevant research,or international trends,
Do the authors think that we should had a balance of Gay presenters, over/under 40 years old, part timers, non English speaking background, AMC qualified grads,
What has gender got to do with the quality of an academic meeting?

Competing Interests: male gender.

Dr Bryan Walpole

access_time 04:12, 8 June 2016
Lucy Modra

Thank you for your interest in our article Brian.

There is a large body of literature documenting the measurable bias against women in selection processes, even when applicants are assessed on apparently objective criteria (see for example Jena et al ‘Sex Differences in Academic Rank in US Medical Schools in 2014’ JAMA 2015: 314: 1149-58; Wennerås and Wold ‘Nepotism and Sexism in Peer Review Nature 1997:387: 341-343). This unconscious gender bias is likely to be amplified in informal selection processes such as invitations to speak at conferences.

Interestingly, there is some evidence that groups claiming to select based on merit alone are more likely to be biased in their decision making than those making no appeal to merit (Castilla and Benard, ‘The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations’ Admin Science Quarterly 2010:55:543-76). The fact gender was not discussed by conference conveners does not demonstrate that gender was not a factor in speaker selection.

Increasing the diversity of conference speakers- including gender, sexual orientation and ethnic background- can generate novel research ideas and lead to a conference more responsive to the needs of the diverse patient population served.

Convening a specialty conference is a mammoth task, with multiple competing considerations such as conference theme and presenting local and international research. We believe that gender is one important consideration in this process.

Competing Interests: Co-convener of the Women in Intensive Care Medicine Network

Dr Lucy Modra
Austin Health

access_time 07:44, 8 July 2016
Gerard Fennessy

The editor:
I congratulate Dr Modra, et al, on having the courage to publically address this issue. I am also impressed that they have taken a scientific approach, rather than an emotive, unquantifiable and anecdotal approach, which would probably have been the easier option.

However, Dr Walpole raises very important issues.

Thus, I would be interested in the amount of women who were on the organising committees of the "about 50 conferences" that Dr Walpole has sat on. This is almost 3 times the number of conferences that Dr Modra, et al, evaluated.

Is the gender imbalance on these organising committees a contributing factor to the number of women speakers at ASMs? Or perhaps there are other factors at play, maybe directly related to the committee members' personal beliefs?

I have only sat on 4 conference organising committees myself so I am certainly in no position to provide comment.

However, with "about 50" conferences under his belt, it appears Dr Walpole is in a very strong position to provide expert evidence on this.

I look forward to his expert opinion, obviously supported by evidence.

Competing Interests: No relevant disclosures

Dr Gerard Fennessy
Western Health

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