Gender disparity at EOS orthodontic conferences: Sexism or chance?
Some time ago, I posted about the gender imbalance at orthodontic conferences. I did a simple piece of research where I just identified the gender of speakers at the major orthodontic conferences. I found a marked disparity with the three leading conferences of the WFO, EOS, and AAO having less than 30% of the speakers being female. This post resulted in a large number of interesting comments. Most of these comments expressed concern about this unsatisfactory situation. Therefore, I was interested in this new paper that looked at the gender disparity of speakers at the European Orthodontic Conferences from 2015 to 2020. Its results are somewhat concerning.
A Zurich-based team did the study, and the European Journal of orthodontics published the paper.
Despina Koletsi , and Alexandra K. Papadopoulou
European Journal of Orthodontics, 2022 , 1–8 https://doi.org/10.1093/ejo/cjac026
What did they ask?
They did the study to:
“Identify any potential gender inequalities related to the speakers at the European Orthodontic Society conferences held from 2015 to 2020”.
What did they do?
They did a straightforward and effective study. This had the following stages:
- They searched the abstract books and programmes of the EOS conferences from 2015-20.
- From this source, they identified the gender of the speakers for lectures. To do this as accurately as possible, they used online tools for gender identification ((https://gender-api.com/, https://babynames. com/, https://www.gpeters.com/names/baby-names.php)
- Then they calculated the gender ratio for each meeting.
- The EOS meeting has a mixture of two types of lectures. One form is the long keynote lecture, and the conference committee selects the speakers. The other part of the programme is a series of short lectures. People make a formal application for consideration for the short lectures. Two assessors review these applications double-blind. They only accept a proportion of these applications.
- The study team, therefore, divided the speakers into those who had applied for short oral presentations and those invited to give a longer keynote presentation.
- Finally, they analysed their data with the relevant multivariate statistics.
What did they find?
Their data was interesting. The main points were
- There were 84 invited lectures and 312 short oral papers during the study period.
- Of the 84 invited speakers, only 15 (17.9%) were female.
- However, when they looked at the short oral presentations, they found that 153 (49%) were female. Importantly, these were selected with no knowledge of their gender.
- Overall, the odds of a female scientist being invited as a keynote speaker at the EOS conference ranged from 0.20 to 0.36 for the keynote lectures. Whereas, for the short oral presentations, the odds were 0.75-1.45.
Their overall conclusions were:
“There was a strong gender disparity in the invited keynote speakers for the EOS conference. However, there was no disparity for the short oral presentations”.
What did I think?
The results of this study were remarkable and disappointing. The data clearly suggested an equal representation of genders for the short oral presentations. Yet, the invited speakers had a marked bias towards males. In this respect, it is crucial to consider that the speakers for the short presentations had to apply to speak. Furthermore, their applications were assessed double-blind. Yet, the invited keynote lectures were invited directly by the conference committee.
In plain language, there was a significant male bias for the keynote lectures at the conference.
Furthermore, because they reviewed the applications blindly, it was clear that the scientific quality of the work produced by women was equally as good as men’s.
These are significant findings. It is established that women’s voice in science and academia is underrepresented. As a result, I was disappointed that this was evident in the speakers at the EOS conference. It is difficult to identify reasons for this, apart from bias in the selection of invited speakers towards men.
This leads to two main issues. Firstly, this leads to an absence of female role models for younger aspiring clinicians/scientists. Secondly, one of the criteria for promotion at many Universities is the number of keynote presentations a person has done. If women are not invited to give keynote lectures, then they are disadvantaged further in the promotion process. Finally, in my opinion, this imbalance is simply wrong and is likely to represent discrimination.
I posted about this subject several months ago. Consequently, I was accused on social media of being woke, virtue signalling and naivety.
At the last meeting of the EOS, there were 12 male and only 4 female keynote speakers, so not much has changed! However, the BOS conference held in Manchester in 2021 had a balance of male/female speakers. In this respect, it is good to see that the British Orthodontic Conference 2022 also has a gender balance of 40% female invited speakers. This illustrates that it is possible to achieve a balance. It just needs planning by the conference committees. We just need to invite more women to speak; this is a simple step.
Emeritus Professor of Orthodontics, University of Manchester, UK.