Women medical school faculty perceive gender bias, sexual harassment

Many women teaching at medical schools perceive that they are discriminated against and sexually harassed, according to a study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Boston University School of Medicine. Men seem to be relatively unaware of the problems and much less affected by them.

The study, published in the June 6 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, found that female faculty were more than two and a half times likely to perceive gender discrimination in their work environment: 77 percent of women vs. 30 percent of men. And more than half the women reported that gender bias had hindered their professional advancement, compared with 9 percent of men.

Sexual harassment also appears to be common for women faculty, with serious forms of harassment -- such as unwanted sexual advances, bribery or threats -- occurring frequently (reported by almost 30 percent of female faculty). More than half of responding female faculty reported being sexually harassed by a superior or colleague, compared to 5 percent of men.

These negative experiences do not necessarily restrict a woman's career advancement, however. Women who report discrimination appear to be as productive as other women -- publishing similar numbers of research articles -- but are less satisfied overall with their careers. However, many more women than men also felt that gender had worked in their favor, giving them an advantage in professional advancement.

While other studies have looked at gender discrimination and harassment among medical students and residents, this is the first study to focus on medical school faculty. "The issue of gender bias in medical schools has broad impact. If we don't correct this now, it will be passed on to the next generation of physicians in training," says Phyllis Carr, M.D., a physician in Primary Care and Women's Health at MGH, and the paper's first author.

To gather the results, surveys were sent to 3,332 men and women at 24 medical schools

Contact: Nicole Gustin
Massachusetts General Hospital

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