With the start of its fifth year, CJPL is pleased to dedicate this entire issue to women physicians and leadership. Despite contributions from the frontline, academia, and administration, from general practitioners and specialists, from physicians in training and established physicians with different cultural backgrounds, it is difficult to be inclusive and find representatives from all sections and groups of our rich community of women physician leaders. Because diversity in itself is so much broader than issues related specifically to women in our field, the next issue of CJPL will be dedicated to diversity in medical leadership.
The wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s did not equalize opportunities for men and women; it just allowed women to enter the workforce. Medicine saw the number of women in medical school rise, and, by the mid-90s, the percentage of male and female graduates was about equal. But women are still underrepresented in leadership positions. The glass ceiling in the health system remains as intact as in many other industries. As a result, women have remained mostly invisible in leadership positions. They head fewer than 30% of hospitals and other health care organizations, and that number is even lower in research-intensive teaching hospitals and faculties of medicine.
The lack of gender parity in health leadership positions can be attributed to both cultural assumptions about women’s leadership capabilities and to systemic gender barriers that inhibit the potential of women as leaders. Some, if not all, of those cultural assumptions and mental models held by both men and women go back to the beginning of humanity. Our preconceived notions about masculinity and femininity influence how we interact with and evaluate colleagues in the health care work place. The simple fact that physicians enter the workforce later in life than graduates in many other industries makes it even more difficult for women physicians who choose to start a family.
There are signs of hope that a tipping point might be close. Both the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Protective Association elected a woman physician as their president this year, and several provincial medical associations, regulatory colleges, and health regions are led by women. In our organization, the CSPL’s presidency alternates between women and men, and the CJPL’s editorial board has a balanced composition. Canadian academic institutions remain behind, with only two women currently serving as dean of medicine. Furthermore, although there might be visible changes at the top of many Canadian health care organizations, the move toward gender equity has not permeated all levels.
In this issue of CJPL, we hope to show that all of us, men and women alike, have to understand and acknowledge how stereotypes and biases cloud our beliefs and perpetuate the status quo. Both men and women have been shown to carry such biases, making women both victims and perpetrators of sexism, consciously and subconsciously. True equality, perhaps even equity, for women as physician leaders will only be achieved when we all fight the stereotypes that hold us back, while talking openly about mental models and behaviour will bring assumptions and stereotypes into the conscious.
Clearly, we are not there yet.
Johny Van Aerde, MD, PhD, FRCPC, is editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Physician Leadership and a former president of the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders. Top
This article has been peer reviewed.