What I learnt this week: I am gender biased #WILTW

This is the 51st #WILTW

Last year Prof. Meirion Thomas wrote an article entitled “Why having so many women doctors is hurting the NHS“. It was not well received by the medical community and I wrote, with colleagues, this formal response. I had hoped that this demonstrated the absence of any prejudice I may have about gender equality. Having previously been heavily involved in the Royal College of Paediatrics of Child Health workforce and training strategies I also felt I had worked hard to redress any imbalances there may have been in the perception of women in the workplace. My specialty, Paediatrics, has a higher proportion of females than males in training and although surveys have demonstrated concerns with work-life balance, gender inequality is not an issue that has been particular prominent. That is not to say it is not an issue and concerns about equality, especially in academic medicine, persist.

However I was surprised to find myself in an uncomfortable situation this week:

I had kindly been invited by the Academic Life in Emergency Medicine team to write a piece on “How I work smarter“. This is a great series (and probably just as relevant to those outside of medicine to those in it!) asking people to discuss their little tricks and tips to be more productive and less stressed at work. Each author is asked to suggest another three people whose ideas they would like to see as part of the series. An observer on twitter noted that virtually all the men had chose men whereas the women had chosen an equal mix.

An uncomfortable truth? It is easy to fall into the trap of protesting too much but my first defence would be that two of the women I would have chosen had already done or were doing pieces. As was pointed out to me on twitter it is not about defending actions – this is simply a sequence of events that has occurred. The bigger question is what are we to make of it, and what should I do, if anything about it?

The easy thing to do is get into a debate about how the numbers of participants in this online community stack up to make this less about gender bias and more about raw statistics. This is probably not useful as

1) It’s not an easy thing to do to work out the proportions of men and women working in emergency and critical care at an international level.

2) It is also moving away from the question of why it might be that men are more likely to choose other men.

3) Finally the question then remains is this truly gender bias and reflective of in-work place attitudes and behaviours?


On reflection I did see the question through a ‘technology’ lens. In some ways I was expecting ‘app’ based solutions or suggestions to purchase clever little devices from the persons I recommended. If I am being brutally honest I do see ‘tech’ as a slightly more male area of interest. It’s quite uncomfortable revealing this as I can cite many female colleagues who use technology extremely efficiently and now many men who are still back in the 20th century.

But I do reveal a gender bias…..

What does that mean for me? Have I become a Prof. Thomas of the world? Do I wonder round the Emergency Department floor carrying a club and grunting (or does this view itself re-inforce a negative stereotype of men!) I sincerely hope not but the worst trap you can fall into is one of assumption. Being reminded of subtle biases in all areas of practice can only help you avoid them. I hope therefore I am more gender aware than gender biased.

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

One thought on “What I learnt this week: I am gender biased #WILTW”

  1. Ah Damian. You are talking about gender equality in your profession. And it matters to you. So that is a good starting place. As with all issues of equality, it is our unconscious biases added together that lead to institutional bias. Once we become aware of these, and if we truly care, we can then notice whether our own actions befit our aspirations, and act to adjust them accordingly. By choosing the best (not necessarily the most obvious) candidates. By offering those who are less well represented in senior positions special opportunities so they can become better represented. By making sure those making decisions are themselves truly representative, and if not, how to help them become so. And by appreciating that we all tend to choose people like us. It is human nature. But it isn’t fair or good for humans of any gender. Or indeed ethnicity, religion, age, disability or sexuality. Sending love xxx

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