According to a survey, doctors in the United Kingdom tend to overestimate gender equality advances.
According to the findings of a snapshot study published in the open access journal BMJ Open, doctors tend to overestimate the progress made toward gender equality in UK medicine.
According to the study results, these misconceptions are linked to a greater unwillingness to support programs to promote gender equality in medicine, particularly among male doctors.
Women’s recruitment to certain specialties has lagged behind their overall representation in medicine in the United Kingdom. Women are well-represented in general practice and primary care, but they are underrepresented in medical and surgical specialties, especially at the senior level.
The researchers intended to see if doctors’ opinions of women’s representation in various specialties and roles are realistic, and if these beliefs influence their readiness to support measures to improve gender equality in medicine.
The researchers polled 425 UK-based consultants, GPs, and specialized trainees/junior doctors on their views on doctors in the UK medical profession using an online survey. Women accounted for more than half of all responses (47 percent).
The 24 medical royal colleges and faculties, 214 health service trusts, and 46 medical subspecialty and social societies used social media, a dedicated doctors’ web forum, and listservs to attract respondents.
Respondents were asked to estimate the percentage of female doctors in various grades, including trainees and specialties (0-100 percent).
The researchers deducted the actual percentages of women working in each area/role from the participants’ responses to determine how much they underestimated or overestimated true numbers.
On a scale of 1–7, where 1 equals strong disagreement and 7 equals strong agreement, respondents were asked to indicate how much they (dis) agreed that these activities were necessary, fair, excessive, “over the top,” or put men at a disadvantage, to gauge support for initiatives designed to promote gender equality in the UK medical profession.
The results revealed that both men and women tended to overestimate the number of female consultants and general practitioners.
In medicine, they predicted the proportion of female consultants to be 43 percent (really 37 percent) and in surgery, 25 percent (actually 14 percent). The expected proportion of female consultants/GPs in general practice was 58 percent (actual proportion 54 percent).
Estimated female trainee proportions varied considerably by specialty area, but overestimation was still present when limiting studies for a given region to respondents who worked in that field of medicine.
Respondents underestimated the number of female GP trainees (63.5 percent vs. 69 percent) while roughly correctly estimating the proportion of female medical trainees (54 percent vs 53 percent).
They did, however, overestimate the number of surgical trainees (37.5 percent vs. 33%) and female medical school graduates (60% vs. 55%).
Overestimating female representation in medicine across fields and roles was linked to a lack of willingness to support actions to achieve gender equality, especially among men.
There was no systematic difference in support for gender-based efforts among female respondents, regardless of their estimations of the proportion of women in medicine.
Male and female respondents who correctly predicted female representation had a tiny disparity in support for gender equality programs, with men’s support marginally lower than women’s.
However, among those who underestimated female representation by 10%, the gender gap increased by 150 percent, indicating a significant decrease in male doctor support.Women’s support was consistent.
The researchers looked into whether this pattern was linked to stereotypes that male doctors are fundamentally superior to female doctors.
Those who held this belief more strongly were less supportive of gender-based programs in general. Even after taking this into account, men’s support for gender-based efforts was still strongly linked to a tendency to overestimate the share of women in medicine.
The findings may not apply to the entire UK medical profession because this is an observational study, which cannot establish causality. Additionally, the areas/roles included were not complete, so the findings may not apply to the entire UK medical profession, according to the researchers.
“Men who overestimate the genuine progress made in women’s representation are at the biggest risk of destroying it,” they write.
They continue, “This indicates an undesirable consequence that can occur as women’s representation within a field grows.” It appears to cause some to misunderstand and exaggerate the real degree of change, and as a result, particularly among men, to incorrectly conclude that gender equality attempts in the sector are no longer worthwhile.
“Efforts to promote actual equality, whether it’s raising women’s presence in fields where they’re still under-represented or tackling issues of gender bias that exist regardless of women’s numerical representation, are ultimately hampered by this.”