Here’s an interesting one. Women make up 58% of the 2006 graduate class of medical Drs in the U.K., according to UCAS. The BBC has a report here, and the British Medical Association’s press release is here. Superficially, this seems like a good thing, but the BMA have surveryed what they take to be a representative sample of this graduate class and found that one in five of the female Drs expect to work part-time for most of their career (only one in twenty five male Drs had this expectation). Also, 80% of these female Drs expect to take a career break at some point, this is compared to 50% of male Drs. In the NHS which has “all or nothing” training contracts and inflexible attitudes to working practice, this can pose a problem for women.
From the BMA press release, it is not made clear why female Drs expect to take career breaks or work part-time for most of their working lives, but, I suspect it has something to do with women still being primary care givers and taking most responsibility for domestic work in the home. Indeed, the BBC report has an interview with someone who suggests this is precisely the reason. If that’s the case, this is interesting in that it shows then even when women come to make up the majority of an important and well regarded profession, they still have to manage their careers in expectation of conforming to socialised gender roles.
The BMA’s response is interesting in that it recognises a potential problem and calls for greater flexibility in training times and NHS working hours. But, as many people know, working part-time can have a detremental effect on people’s careers, and is often seen as a lack of commitment to the job. (chapter one of Jennifer Saul’s Feminism: Issues and Arguments, and Joan Williams’ Unbending Gender have some good discussion on this). In fairness to the BMA, they do say that the need for flexibility is about more than catering for the increased number of women, but all the same, I think something other than a call for part-time hours is needed if we don’t want newly qualified female drs to suffer in the long run.