Despite the fact that most Canadian medical school graduates are women—and have been for more than a decade—women are still “underrepresented in senior faculty and leadership roles,” and face more challenges than men in their research careers, according to a new commentary in CMAJ by researchers at Western University, University of Calgary, University of Toronto and CAMH.
The article, entitled “Recognizing and addressing implicit gender bias in medicine,” discusses how implicit (or unconscious) gender biases are more difficult to address, because they aren’t always recognized. But they can be harmful. These biases have been found to persist throughout women’s medical training and practice, and in their research work. Studies have found, for example, that women researchers get “less funding than men,” and women are more likely to be discriminated against in hiring, pay and career advancement.
One way to begin addressing these implicit biases is to provide strategies that help those in positions of power become aware of these unconscious preferences. The commentary describes how this was done successfully by both an academic health centre and university workshop that used strategies like gender bias education and a gender bias self-assessment to increase people’s awareness of their unintentional beliefs.
But bias training can’t be the only tool for “meaningful and sustained change,” point out the authors. Initiatives to change structural biases include application blinding (removing people’s names from applications so as to conceal their gender); having more diversity on selection and planning committees; critically examining biased language in teaching and evaluation; and supporting flexible child care to enable both men and women in medicine an equal ability to devote time to their careers.
“To address inequities, we need [research that sets out] transparent and clear metrics about achievement and success that are not narrowly defined or vague,” says Juveria Zaheer, one of the authors and Clinician Scientist, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH.
The most promising ways to address the complexity of inequities is to design informed multi-pronged strategies to close the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged groups,” adds lead author Katrina Hui, resident physician in the Department of Psychiatry at U of T, and a resident at CAMH.
CAMH has a dedicated team to identify and address gender equity issues that may be faced by CAMH scientists. The Equity Task Force for Women Scientists (ETFWS), established in 2019, is working in collaboration with senior leadership to promote good practices towards the advancement of gender equality at CAMH.
Additionally, in March 2020, CAMH launched womenmind™, a new philanthropic community committed to tackling two major issues for women: the gender gap in mental health and the gender gap in the sciences. womenmind fuels philanthropy focused on accelerating discovery related to improving the mental health of girls and women and supporting female-identifying researchers to become leaders in the sciences. A number of initiatives are planned to advance women in the sciences at CAMH, such as offering mentoring programs for women and building other supports for early career women scientists.