Do We Still Have A Problem Of Sexual Harassment In Medical Education?
In just a couple short decades, women have made amazing strides in advancing their careers and fostering a gender-equal work environment in the medical field. It was not until the latter half of the 20th Century that it became normal for more than 10 percent of medical professionals to consist of women. And as late as 1995, more than 50 percent of women academic medical faculty reported sexual harassment.
With the growing rate of students to enter medical school, nearly half of them are women. Dr. Reshma Jagsi of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan explains that higher rates of sexual harassment correlate with a greater gender imbalance in the workplace. And while sexual harassment is unacceptable under any workplace conditions, the rate harassment in the medical environment has unfortunately not dropped at the same rate that female physicians has grown.
According to the National Institutes of Health, sexual harassment, including unwanted sexual comments, attention and advancements by a colleague or superior, is still experienced by 30 percent of women in the medical workplace and training environment. Gender bias is still at large as well, experienced by 66 percent women, compared to only 10 percent of men.
Dr. Sharon Strauss of the University of Toronto argues that gender inequality is in fact still very prevalent in medical work culture, a potentially controversial statement considering the many anti-discriminatory workforce laws employers are now required to enforce. But it should also be noted that the majority of sexual harassment incidents go unreported. In the workplace this is usually because the victim fears that doing so will harm their career. The Association of Women for Action and Research reports that 12 percent of women have received direct threats of termination should they not comply with their harassers.
Considering many of the women who’ve been affected by these factors report them also inhibiting career advancements, it’s clear that gender discrimination is still a very real problem in the medical field. It’s also clear that more actions need to be taken on top of the legal structures that already exist to prevent gender bias and sexual harassment.
Dr. Strauss has pointed out that the U.S. could improve this problem by taking similar actions to those of the U.K. In 2005, Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN Charter was established in order to recognize the commitment to advancing the careers of women in primarily male-dominated industries like engineering, science and, of course, medicine. The organization honors companies with awards, that can also be compared to health code grades for restaurants. These awards have had a strong impact on companies’ reputations as well as improving the U.K.’s own gender biases and discrimination in the workforce.
The fact is, sexual harassment in the workforce, particularly for women in the medical field, remains a serious problem that must be addressed by stricter laws and penalties. Harassment not only impacts women physically and emotionally, but it undermines their abilities to perform as skilled and effective medical professionals.