Survey Shows Women in Medicine Still Face Inequities

By: Beverly Leonard

A recent survey finds that women in medicine face harassment, disrespect and lack of opportunity. There is an urgent need to correct these inequities.

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Photo Source: iStock Photos

Younger generations are gaining prominent footholds and shifting conversations in today’s workplaces. This includes changes in the attitudes of companies toward their responsibilities in addressing societal issues. For the modern workforce, few areas of social change are more important than gender equality. This is because women, including women in medicine, continue to face harassment, disrespect, and lack of opportunity.

While already important, the different experiences of men and women in the medical industry will become even more prominent in the future. Right now, 65% of physicians are men, however, the majority of students entering medical school are women. Should that trend continue, the problems women face in the workplace will take on greater prominence in the industry.

Survey: Men and women see the issues of inequity differently

A recent survey asked more than 700 female and male physicians about their workplace experiences, in particular:

  • their environments
  • leadership opportunities
  • workplace harassment.

The results point to major differences in how men and women see the problems in the industry and suggest areas for much-needed improvement.


The medical industry has a problem with harassment and the evidence is staggering. The vast majority of both women (83%) and men (73%) shared the belief that harassment was an issue in their workplaces.

Women are the targets of harassment much more often than their male counterparts. They face both more harassment and different types of it when compared to men.

This means women are more likely to experience discrimination, insubordination, retaliation, physical violence, and sexual harassment. Only 12% of women reported that they had never had to deal with any form of sexual harassment, compared to 38% of men.

Although the majority of respondents had never considered abandoning the industry because of harassment, women (18%) left jobs at nearly double the rate of men (10%).

Men were also more likely to believe their organizations have policies, training and reporting procedures in place to prevent sexual harassment, physical violence, and retaliation, while women had a more dim view.

The way people in the medical industry perceive the harassment around them was a consistent thread throughout the study. Women reported seeing harassment much more than men.

Women and men also both reported seeing more harassment of women than their male counterparts. However, women reported witnessing substantially more harassment of other women than men saw of their female coworkers.

Women physicians feel less respected by their organizations

With such evident problems related to harassment, it should not surprise anyone that women feel much less respected within their organizations. Just 3% of both women and men believed that gender equality was important to their organizations.

The scale of this problem is further indicated by the sizable majority of men (69%) who believed both sexes are equally respected while only a minority of women (34%) agreed. Nearly two-thirds of women (63%) believed that men were more respected in the workplace, and virtually no one believed that women were more respected — just 4% of men and 1% of women.

You may also enjoy reading: Burnout in Medicine: Why Doctors Need Help from Leadership

This disparity in both levels of respect and the perception of respect reflects across organizations, among staff members and in how patients treat medical personnel. The overwhelming majority of women — 87% — believe patients treat them differently, while 58% of men feel treated differently because of their gender.

Similar numbers pop up when looking at how women and men were treated by nurses, administrative staff and other physicians. For women in the medical workplace, different treatment typically takes the form of being ignored more often, being assigned more undesirable work and receiving less support.

Women physicians are denied leadership

Problems with most of the issues facing women in the medical industry would improve through increased representation in leadership, but women appear to have fewer opportunities for those positions.

Respondents were positive about their own abilities. Sixty-three percent of women and 69% of men were confident they could fulfill career aspirations. Most believed they had advanced in their careers.

However, women were less likely to believe promotions are based on fair criteria (31%, compared to 45% of men) or that the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees (30%, compared to 44% of men).

The differences grew even more pronounced when asking women and men about the perception of opportunity. Over 70% of men believe the playing field is level while only 49% of women agree. In comparison, 49% of women believe they have fewer opportunities for advancement while only 13% of men think the deck is stacked against them.

The bottom line

A person’s understanding of life as a physician varies greatly depending on their gender. These stark differences in how colleagues and peers see the world around them point to the fact that crucial conversations about harassment, respect, and opportunity are not happening as often as they should.

The growing influence of younger generations will bring about important societal changes in many walks of life, but we should not wait for women to make up the majority of the medical industry before we change the way people are treated. The right thing is to address these challenges now.


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Beverly Leonard has more than 20 years of experience in healthcare staffing. She joined Weatherby Healthcare in 1999.

As a senior vice president, she’s developed a reputation for integrity and innovative thinking. Her thought leadership distinguishes her as a sought-after mentor.

Bev is a certified member of the National Association Medical Staff Services (NAMSS) and cares deeply about the quality of patient care.

Originally published at on March 6, 2020.

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