The Effects of Perceived Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination has obvious negative effects such as keeping women from rising to leadership positions or achieving equal pay. That alone should be enough reason to address these issues but there is also evidence that demonstrates the negative impact of perceived gender discrimination on women’s motivation – one of the key ingredients to high quality work.

Sharon Foley and colleagues investigated these issues in a sample of solicitors. Not surprisingly, they found that women perceived higher levels of gender bias against women and more personal gender discrimination compared to their male counterparts. This perceived personal gender discrimination was directly linked to two important motivational outcomes. First, it predicted solicitors’ organisational committment, and second, higher perceived gender discrimination was associated with higher intentions to leave the organisation.

This study shows how important gender equality is not just for its own sake but also for keeping women motivated and committed and ultimately ensuring that their talent and expertise is not lost.

Barriers Faced by Women in Surgery

Surgery is a challenging career path for everyone, but what makes it apparently more challenging for women? What obstacles are in their paths that men don’t have to overcome? A study by Amalia Cochran and colleagues investigated this question by asking men and women at the end of their surgical training or at the beginning of their surgical career about a number of potential obstacles such as sex discrimination, lack of confidence, conflict between children and career demands and job market constraints.

While both female and male participants reported similar levels of structural barriers and career preparation, women reported that they anticipated or perceived to be treated differently from men, including negative comments about their sex. Female participants also mentioned having children as a career barrier.

These results are perhaps not surprising. However, they illustrate once more the importance of addressing gender inequality in surgery on many levels – from helping women with children to achieve a good work-life-balance to fostering a more egalitarian work environment in general.

Climbing the Surgical Career Ladder as a Woman

While women are under-represented in surgery in general, this under-representation is even more pronounced among surgical leaders. Nevertheless, there are women who have made it to the top of the surgical career ladder. How did they do it and what can we learn from them?

Rena Kass and colleagues can give us some answers. They interviewed ten female surgical leaders and asked them about barriers for women in surgery and how to overcome them. Almost all participants mentioned overt discrimination as a major barrier. For example, one participant explained:

“I would go on interviews and people would ask ‘What makes you think that you can tell a group of … mostly male surgeons, what to do and that they are going to listen to you?’ They would phrase it in various ways but … they were all really asking ‘Look, you’re a woman, you’re soft spoken, you don’t look like what we expect, what makes you think … you can come here and run the place?”

Other obstacles mentioned included the lack of effective mentors, a hostile work environment and personal illness.

So what do you need to overcome these barriers and make it to the top? The majority of participants mentioned perseverance and resilience as one of the most important attributes necessary to overcome barriers. As one of them put it:

“perseverance and not taking ‘no’ for an answer. When I was in high school the guidance counselor told me that women did not become doctors … then, when I did not get into medical school, the pre-med advisor … said ‘why don’t you just settle down and be an engineer?’ I said no, I want to be a doctor … I reapplied and got in. When I got out of my training and didn’t have any publications, my chairman said, ‘it’s going to be an uphill battle, being an academic surgeon’. I said, well that’s what I want to be. So I would say … the thing that distinguishes the ones who make it through to the end is perseverance, desire, and drive.”

Other important attributes included being hard-working and passionate, having a good support structure and communication skills.

The Effects of Talking About Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination in the workplace is a controversial topic and some argue that talking about it might over-emphasize the problem and prevent women from entering fields in which they are under-represented. In fact, since starting this blog, we have received some comments along these lines on our posts ourselves, for example when talking about the glass cliff. These concerns are certainly not unjustified. However, knowing about gender discrimination might also help girls and women as it shows them that negative feedback that they might have received may not be due to their lack of skill or talent, but due to gender discrimination. So talking about gender discrimination seems to be a double-edged sword. But what does the literature have to say about this matter?

Weisgram and Bigler were intrigued by this debate and investigated how providing girls with information about gender discrimination in science influences their attitudes towards and interest in a career in science. Two groups of middle school aged girls took part in a one hour session with the aim of sparking their interest in computer science. After this, one of the groups also attended a session on historic and contemporary gender discrimination in scientific fields. The effects of the one hour session in itself proved to be rather disappointing. The girls were neither more interested in a scientific career nor did they feel more confident in their scientific abilities. What is more, after the intervention they had stronger beliefs that men were better at science than women. Interestingly, this was quite different for those girls who had been taught about gender discrimination: They felt more confident about their scientific abilities and had a higher opinion on science in general. However, their interest in science did not change.

Nevertheless, although the positive effects were limited, this study suggests that making barriers and obstacles that women face explicit does not have the suspected negative effects.