March 02, 2020

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.

Trends in the Proportion of Female Speakers at Medical Conferences in the United States and in Canada, 2007 to 2017

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:

ConferenceMale (n)Female (n)% Female
My comments?

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.

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Have your say!

  1. I think the age and length of time in specialty is important here.
    You’re more likely to be on the bill if you have seniority in your specialty. Once you have it, you’re likely to be invited back until you retire or die or do something stupid. The “here’s what I did on my MSc” gang is likely to have high proportion of female contributors, the lectures with a “legend of ortho” name attached to them where someone delivers the “here’s what I learnt in my 40 years of tooth straightening” are more likely to be be male for a while to come.

    These conferences are quite international, so they invite speakers from all over the world – so we take on the gender bias of many different countries at a major conference.

    Are orthodontists still largely binary identifying as male and female?

  2. This is a really important blog. A massive well done to the BOS for showing how it’s done (and it echos a conversation I had with some female colleagues at the conference in 2018). Out of interest, do you know what the gender split is for the GDC specialist register or for NHS consultants? (just wondering if the BOS membership includes nurses and therapists which may skew the numbers)

  3. In my humble opinion, gender difference will balance by itself in a near future. Undergraduate program show a proportion of up to 70-80% of female in their program. Chances are that graduate program actually have an imbalance that favor female gender (more female than male). Therefore, those new female graduate will become new lecturer during their carreer.
    The actual imbalance in the is likely a false problem. In 10 years from now, their will likely no imbalance anymore.

  4. I would focus on inviting and assessing well educated speakers with robust scientific methodology, regardless of gender, as this would represent true equality of opportunity. Trying to have a 50%-50% gender representation just for the sake of it, achieves nothing but a possible compromise in quality.

  5. Wait 10 years and the imbalance will be the other way. The specialty needs no “affirmative action.”

    • you are 100% right

      Most dental schools have a greater proportion of females now.

    • I agree. What next colour balance- are all the colours included? Financial/income balance? Is there a bias towards getting more speakers from the country the meetings are held? If we want to be all inclusive what about being LGBTQIA inclusive? Should conferences now get speakers to represent their genders/income/colour more appropriately? If there is some conspiracy going on deliberately omitting women then certainly we need to address this! But why then stop at women and be all inclusive. I would like to see the best present. THE END.

  6. Can someone list some female speakers that have been overlooked? Please be specific! As far as I can tell anyone that can make a contribution has equal opportunity already. It’s not a good sign when we care what someone has to say is related to their genitalia. A more woken orthodontic academia does not elevate the profession. It does the opposite.

  7. Dr. O’Brien,

    Thank you for making this post. Not only do you address a priority for the AAO but you also provide an interesting perspective in describing the British Orthodontic Conference’s approach to addressing imbalance for their 2020 conference.

    The current number of speakers for AAO’s 2020 Annual Session are 158 men (63%) and 94 women (37%) – a little more than the numbers published above, but I agree, still room for improvement.

    I work very closely with the AAO’s Special Committee on Women Orthodontists (SCWO) that has worked hard the past year to address equitability for our female members. In the early stages of their work, the SCWO recognized not only the discrepancy of female scientific speakers relative to female members, but also the need for women to receive encouragement to seek speaking roles. A survey conducted among women at AAO in 2019 showed that 49% of respondents were interested in speaking at AAO, but 98% responded that they were not familiar with the speaker application process. SCWO has identified the need for a “pool” of speakers and a way of identifying who was applying versus who was being selected, and so they submitted a motion to the Board of Trustees requiring that a database of scientific speaker applicants and selections be maintained – which the Board just recently approved.

    While we still have work to do, I am thrilled that the SCWO is laying the groundwork to make long-term, meaningful changes in the representation of our women members in our scientific programs.

    I suspect you will agree that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this complex issue. Nonetheless, we at the AAO are proud of our efforts to identify and address the disparities in gender among speakers at AAO meetings, leaders in our organization and the AAO membership-at-large. We appreciate your input on this matter and welcome your suggestions and interest in supporting women orthodontists, students and leaders around the world.

    Lynne Thomas Gordon
    CEO, American Association of Orthodontists

  8. I think the same as you, Kevin, specially because female orthodontists are majority in clinics worldwide. I don’t think the problem will be solved itself. There is a gender preference in academics and conferences and it will be initially solved with your blog pointing it. Thank you!

  9. I don’t think the imbalance will simply sort itself out. 50% of female orthodontists under 35 means that we are recent graduates with an average debt of $430,000+ after dental school and residency. This amount of debt limits our ability to pursue academic careers and research, and may even discourage one from believing they have time to be on the lecture circuit. Are a majority of the orthodontists with decades of experience men? Yes. Are there also women with the same amount of experience? Absolutely! My favorite lectures at AAO 2019 were presented by knowledgeable, articulate women, and I want to learn more from professionals like them every year at conferences. I hope that everyone will actively work towards acknowledging and addressing the apparent gender bias and positively promoting equal representation in our profession.

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