The proportion of women speaking at medical conferences in the United States and Canada increased significantly between 2007 and 2017, while the proportion at surgical specialty conferences lagged noticeably behind, according to new research.
“Although female representation at academic meetings has been identified as an important gender equity issue, the proportion of conference speakers who are women has not yet been systematically measured across different medical subspecialties,” wrote Shannon M. Ruzycki, MD, and her colleagues from the University of Calgary (Alta.). The report is in.
Using the Web of Science Conference database, the investigators identified 181 conferences and 701 unique meetings (40 in 2007, 104 in 2013, 115 in 2014, 124 in 2015, 137 in 2016, and 181 in 2017). The list of names from each meeting program was analyzed by the Gender Balance Assessment Tool to identify the likely proportion of female speakers by assigning a probability of each name belonging to a gender, based on social media data.
In 2007, the proportion of female speakers was 24.6% , which increased to 34.1% by 2017, an average increase of 0.97% per year. The range of female speakers at each meeting ranged from 0% to 82.6%, with 82 (12%) of the 701 meetings having more than 50% female speakers. The proportion of female speakers was slightly less than the proportion of female doctors in the United States and Canada in 2007 (26.1%), but was slightly greater than the proportion of female doctors in 2015 (32.4%).
During the study period, the proportion of female speakers at surgical specialty conferences was significantly lower than that for medical specialty conferences (20.1% in 2007 and 28.4% in 2017 vs. 29.9% in 2007 and 38.8% in 2017). While the number of speakers at medical meetings in 2015 matched the proportion of doctors in the United States and Canada in that year, the proportion of speakers at surgical meetings was noticeably higher than the number of female surgeons.
“We hypothesize that the low proportion of female speakers at medical conferences reflects broader gender inequity within the medical profession, particularly in subspecialties where the majority of physicians are men. It has been shown that the presence of female role models in male-dominated career streams can increase engagement of young women,” the investigators wrote. “Exposure to female speakers at medical conferences may be a means of encouraging female medical students and residents to choose specialties that have historically been male dominated. Strategies to promote inclusivity of female speakers at academic conferences may therefore represent an important opportunity to influence gender equity within medicine,” they concluded.
The University of Calgary funded the study. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.
SOURCE: Ruzycki SM et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Apr 12. .