UK female surgeons report high level of workplace discrimination


  • Dawn O'Shea
  • UK Professional News
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More than half of female surgeons in the UK have faced or witnessed discrimination in the workplace, suggest the results of an online poll, published in BMJ Open. Orthopaedics/trauma was seen as the most sexist of surgical specialties.

The findings are based on the responses of 81 female surgeons who were surveyed about their perceptions and experiences of working in the field, what obstacles they had faced in their careers, and what they thought would help to overcome these.

Analysis of the responses identified several perceived barriers to a surgical career for women, such as poor work-life balance, inflexibility regarding part-time careers, gender stereotyping, and lack of formal mentorship.

Nearly six out of 10 (59%) respondents reported experiencing or witnessing discrimination against women in the workplace. More than one in five (22%) respondents felt there is a tangible glass ceiling in the specialty, with an overriding feeling that the working culture is geared towards men.

Orthopaedics/trauma was seen as the most sexist of the surgical specialties (53%), followed by cardiothoracic (16%) and general surgery (15%).

When asked for suggestions on actions to overcome sexism in the specialty, nearly a third (30%) of respondents said sexist language should be challenged. Other suggestions for tackling discrimination included more female role models and mentors, destigmatising career breaks for women, creating flexible training/career options, better work-life balance, and improved understanding of the impact of childcare responsibilities on working life.

The survey was distributed through the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland (ASGBI) women in surgery Facebook page and shared on Twitter for two weeks in October 2017. The ASGBI Facebook group is mainly made up of women (90%). Most surgeons in the group come from the UK (70%), but it also includes doctors from India, Pakistan, USA, Europe and Africa.