HT to my Dad, who is a more reliable NPR listener than I am (it’s an advantage of retirement, I’m told). Yesterday he shared a short segment from All Things Considered that discusses the gap in women as first and senior authors in medical publishing.
I have two key concerns looking at the article they discuss and after digging a bit more deeply into the literature in this area. One is the evidence of a plateau in women as first or senior authors in the last 7 years. Is this because we’ve hit a glass ceiling in science? Is it because we’re not trying? Is it because of implicit bias? Or is it some combination of the three? Those concept are all subtle enough that it’s almost impossible to determine the role that each plays without employing qualitative methods. Of course, the beauty of qualitative methods is that more reasons we aren’t even thinking of might be playing a role and this would help to identify them.
My second concern is the one alluded to in the conversation with the female cardiologist in the NPR piece. We know from many areas of the business and academic literature that as women we tend to advocate poorly for ourselves; most of us culturally can’t get comfortable with the probability of being viewed as pushy, which is a documented consequence of aggressive negotiation tactics. Is our absence as first or senior authors a result of us failing to negotiate and advocate effectively for ourselves in yet another realm? Is this another manifestation of “Women don’t ask” in a way that is perhaps even more insidious than failing to negotiate salary?
And, of course, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t generally representative of our global shortcomings in attracting and retaining women into careers in academic medicine. Until we have a system that provides the professional development opportunities, the hard resources, and the work-life integration capabilities that are expected in the modern world, there may be little additional room for change.