To the Editor: Last month, the Medical Journal of Australia called for manuscript submissions on the topic of “Women in medicine and medical leadership in Australia — is there gender equity?” We answer with a resounding no. Indeed, we believe the question itself perpetuates gender disparity by suggesting that the answer is up for debate.
There is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that gender equity in medicine and medical leadership in Australia has not been achieved. Women have had gender parity in Australian medical schools for decades; however, they represent only 28% of medical deans and 12.5% of hospital chief executive officers.1 In February 2019, The Lancet dedicated an entire issue on advancing women in science, medicine and global health.2 The MJA has also reported on capacity, capability and credibility barriers for women in health leadership.3 These disparities are even greater for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour and women with disabilities.
There is an urgent need to shift our focus from asking whether gender inequity exists to implementing and evaluating sustainable strategies to change the status quo. This year, the Australian Medical Association of Victoria changed its constitution to include a 40% gender quota for its board.4 The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has established a business plan with tangible indicators to promote leadership and flexible training for its female surgeons.5 Both the Women in Tropical Health Catalyse Program6 in Australia and Wāhine Connect (www.wahineconnect.nz) in New Zealand offer mentoring for women in medicine and medical leadership.
We need to bolster current strategies aimed at improving the number of women in medical leadership. Moreover, we need to keep our workplaces, colleges, committees, professional associations and academic journals accountable for the role they play in the persistent gender inequities in medicine and medical leadership in Australia.
We invite the MJA to follow The Lancet's example and dedicate an entire issue to strategies that advance women in medicine and medical leadership. We implore it not to ask “is there gender equity?” when the answer to this question is patently clear. The answer is no.
- 1. Bismark M, Morris J, Thomas L, et al. Reasons and remedies for under‐representation of women in medical leadership roles: a qualitative study from Australia. BMJ Open 2015; 5: e009384.
- 2. The Lancet. Advancing women in science, medicine, and global health. Lancet 2019; 393: 493–610. https://www.thelancet.com/lancet-women (viewed Oct 2019).
- 3. Teede HJ. Advancing women in medical leadership. Med J Aust 2019. https://doi.org/10.5694/mja2.50287. [Epub ahead of print] https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2019/211/9/advancing-women-medical-leadership
- 4. Australian Medical Association. The AMA Gender Equity Summit Report. AMA, 2019. https://ama.com.au/sites/default/files/documents/AMA%20GES%20Report%20Aug%202019_2.pdf (viewed Sept 2019).
- 5. Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Women in Surgery Section business plan 2017–2021. Melbourne: RACS, 2019. https://umbraco.surgeons.org/media/1008/177348_2017-10-25_pln_wis-bus-plan-v4.pdf (viewed Sept 2019).
- 6. Hot North. Catalyse Mentorship Program. Hot North, 2019. https://www.hotnorth.org.au/opportunities/northern-australia-professional-health-networks/women-in-tropical-health-network/catalyse-mentorship-program (viewed Sept 2019).
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