Gender Bias May Influence Hospitalist Pay

It’s not every day that a medical conference includes a refresher on Feminism 101, but that’s essentially what kicked off the session on “Women in Hospital Medicine: Defining Common Challenges and Strategies for Success” at the Society of Hospital Medicine annual meeting this week.

The hottest topic was the persistent pay gap between female and male physicians, as reported in study after study after study and in a recent survey by the society. But before discussion began, the 70 or so hospitalists present (including 3 men) heard a review of the gender-based basics.

Dr. Rachel George (left) and Dr. Patience E. Reich (SHERRY BOSCHERT/IMNG Medical Media)

“There’s an old saying: Before you try to move a fence, find out why it was put there,” said Dr. Patience E. Reich, who chaired the session with Dr. Rachel George.

The studies suggest that at least some of the disparities in pay are due to gender bias, “many times unconscious,” after controlling for the effects of other factors, Dr. Reich said.

She recommends the Web site of the Gender Bias Learning Project of the University of California Hastings College of Law, where visitors can play Gender Bias Bingo and find other tools for understanding gender bias in our society.

The Project identifies four gender bias patterns that many female physicians can appreciate, Dr. Reich said:

 Prove it again! Men are judged by their potential, but women are judged by their accomplishments and have to prove themselves again and again. Women have to work twice as hard to get half as far as men.

The double bind. Men are perceived as assertive, but women who behave the same way are perceived as aggressive. To get ahead, women sometimes have to choose between being respected and not liked, or being liked and not respected.

The maternal wall. Mothers are considered to be uncommitted to work or incompetent. “People don’t bother hiding this one,” Dr. Reich noted. She gave an example of a time when she submitted the name of a female hospitalist for an open leadership position at a hospital where she worked. A committee member dismissed the idea, saying the candidate wouldn’t want the position because “she’s trying to have another baby.” Dr. Reich countered, “Why don’t we just ask her?” When they did, the candidate said she did want the job and applied for it.

Gender wars. Internalized gender bias creates conflict between women. One example: Older female academicians who sacrificed having children in order to have a career and who now resent younger women expecting to have both, and thus refuse to mentor them.

These issues need to be addressed systemically, not just on a case-by-case basis, in order to effect change, Dr. Reich said.

At a Society of Hospital Medicine women’s interest group meeting later the same day, one doctor said Dr. Reich’s and Dr. George’s “women’s issues” session was better than similar ones she had attended at other medical conferences. “It’s important that we talk about gender bias in the open, with women and men present, and not just talk about things like work-life balance, because it’s a systemic theme,” the physician said.

–Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

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Filed under Family Medicine, Hospital and Critical Care Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Uncategorized

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