UK Dental Conferences have a gender imbalance.
This paper looked at the gender imbalance of speakers at major UK dental conferences. I thought that the results were somewhat concerning and relevant to orthodontic conferences.
In the UK, 50% of registrants are women. As a result, we would expect equal representation of genders at dental conferences. The authors of this paper point out that achieving a gender balance is essential. This is because, in addition to providing us with research and clinical information, conferences also provide role modelling and mentorship opportunities. Significantly, speaking at conferences must influence career progression and perceptions of leadership roles.
They also point out that gender imbalance in medical conferences has been recognised. However, this may be slowly improving. Nevertheless, we know little about the gender balance of UK dental conference speakers.
A team from Leeds and Liverpool in the North of England did this study. The British Dental Journal published the paper.
Claudia Heggie, Sarah L. McKernon and Laura Gartshore
British Dental Journal: Online: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-021-3072-2
What did they ask?
They did this study to;
“Find out the gender balance of invited speakers at UK dental conferences in 2018 and 2019”.
What did they do?
They did a cross-sectional survey of conference programmes by using the following steps:
Firstly, they approached 14 dental societies and asked them for their conference programmes. If an organisation did not provide this information, they searched the public domain.
The authors then extracted this data on the main speakers:
- Their gender
- Length of presentation
- Professional role
- Gender of panel members and session chairs.
They defined an acceptable balance as being 40-60% female speakers.
Finally, they obtained the General Dental Council report for 2020 and obtained data on total workforce gender distribution for all registered dentists and within each dental speciality.
What did they find?
The authors found that 50.4% of dentists identified themselves as female and 49.6% as male.
They obtained data on 352 invited speakers. They identified 39.8% as female and 60.2% as male.
- Only 3 (21.4%) of the conferences were gender-balanced (40-60% female).
- In 3 (21.4%), the female speakers outnumbered males.
- For 55.1% (n=8), males outnumbered female speakers.
The conferences with the highest number of female speakers were oral medicine (66%) and special care dentistry (61.9%).
The lowest was orthodontics (19%) and periodontics (18.4%).
The British Dental Association conference was not balanced, with 63% of the speakers being male.
Importantly, when they looked at the length of the presentations. The mean duration for female speakers was 31 minutes, and for males, this was 40 minutes.
Their conclusions were
“Gender imbalance exists in speakers invited to present at recent dental conferences. Conference organisers are encouraged to work proactively towards a more representative programme”.
What did I think?
These findings were concerning. However, in many ways, they reflected the situation in medicine. I have also posted similar results in a small study that I published on this blog last year.
I thought that their methodology was sound and it provided a reasonable level of evidence on this issue. Therefore, we should take the findings seriously.
The authors discussed their findings, pointing out that they recognise that organising a conference is a complex task. However, it is nonsensical that gender should impact conference content. Instead, addressing this issue should involve conference organisers actively raising awareness and providing a platform for female speakers. I strongly support this statement.
On a personal note, I have been the conference chair of several major orthodontic conferences. The largest that I was involved with was the World Orthodontic Conference in 2015. I am afraid to say that this programme was not balanced. For example, we did not even consider gender when we were putting the programme together. I have thought about this process, and I cannot help feeling that when a conference puts its programme together, it tends to ask the “usual suspects”. These are frequent speakers who are males, and they speak at other meetings and so the wheel keeps turning.
We changed our approach at the British Orthodontic Conference this year. We asked people to suggest women speakers. As a result, this increased our pool of potential speakers. I was pleased to see that this resulted in a conference that was gender balanced for the invited speakers. This took a little more work, but feedback from our meeting has been great.
Emeritus Professor of Orthodontics, University of Manchester, UK.