Do orthodontic conferences have a gender bias?
Last year I wrote a blog post on gender inequality in orthodontics and dentistry. I drew attention to the gender imbalance of orthodontic conference programs. This new blog post is a follow-up to see if things have changed.
I also came across this interesting paper about gender inequality in medical conferences. This led me to make a comparison between this data and the major orthodontic conferences in 2020.
A team from Canada did the study, and JAMA published it.
Shannon M. Ruzycki et al
JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(4):e192103. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.2103
I thought that the introduction onf gender bias was interesting. The main points made by the authors were:.
“When we consider gender disparity this arises from implicit and explicit bias, cultural factors, unsupported work environments and the overall underrepresentation of women “.
“This may lead to inequalities in evaluation, hiring, pay, harassment, promotion and advancement”.
When we consider conferences;
“The visibility or representation of females decisions is an important facet of gender equity. Female representation may lead to lower gender bias in the community”.
I thought that this summed up the situation very nicely.
What did they ask?
“What are the proportion of female speakers at USA based medical conferences”.
What did they do?
They did an extensive study of all the conferences that took place between year and year.
They found that the main proportion of female speakers in 2007 was 24% and this increased to 34% in 2017. This was similar to the percentage of female positions across all specialities in the United States.
Their overall conclusion was
“Although our findings indicate that the proportion of female speakers at medical conferences increased during the last decade, women continue to be underrepresented. Speaker invitation and selection at conferences represent important opportunities to influence gender equity within medicine”.
So where are we in orthodontics?
Firstly, I have not been as scientific as these authors. I have reviewed the published programs of the major conferences for 2020. This is what I found:
|Conference||Male (n)||Female (n)||% Female|
These results really speak for themselves. They show that at most of the conferences, there is an imbalance in the gender distribution of the speakers. This was similar to the figures that I produced last year for all the organisations.
However, the British Orthodontic Conference committee decided to attempt to address the imbalance for their conference in 2020. We took the step of circulating prominent people in British Orthodontics and asking them to nominate potential women speakers. We then asked them to speak. Everyone who was contacted accepted. We now have a balanced conference. I cannot help thinking that this puts down a challenge to other conference scientific committees.
When we interpret this data, we need to consider the gender mix of orthodontists. Data on this is scarce. However, the AAO workforce report reports that males represent 72% of professionally active members. But importantly, 50% of those under 35 years old are female. For the BOS the membership is 50% male and female.
Is this important?
When I have addressed this previously, I got some comments asking whether achieving this balance is essential. I would like to go back to the paper that I mentioned earlier
In their discussion, they stated that
“Because conferences represent an important opportunity for role modelling, mentorship and career advancement, it is essential for us to understand any gender disparities and address them”.
That’s a good enough reason for me to want to try and address the gender imbalance at our conferences.
We don’t need working parties, excuses or handwringing, as the facts speak for themselves. The current situation is just wrong. We should just get on with solving this for next years round of conferences.
Emeritus Professor of Orthodontics, University of Manchester, UK.