Women still missing in (US) Medicine’s higher ranks

An article in the NY Times raises some interesting issues that women in philosophy might want to think about. First of all, tenure is less prevalent in medical schools. According to a Science blog:

The percentage of new faculty hired on the tenure track at U.S. academic medical centers and medical schools has been falling steadily for almost a quarter of a century, according to a report out this month from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Only a quarter of new clinical faculty hired in 2009 were on the tenure track, as opposed to 46 percent in 1984.

One figure has been virtually unchanged: The number of men in tenure track positions exceeded that of tenure-track women by eight percentage points in 1984 and in 2009. “Future research could assess the personal significance of tenure to women, as tenured positions may become more scarce for this subgroup of faculty,” the report’s authors write.

Nonetheless, women have dismal career prospects, if the figures of actual job distributions are predictors. And some of the reasons are familiar; the difference between men’s and women’s lives may have an impact independent of tenure. On the other hand, I do not remember seeing the sense of inclusion and confidence raised very much in philosophy discussions. There may be good reasons for this; linking poor career advancement to women’s self-confidence can easily turn into blaming the victim. From the NY Times:

This phenomenon is well documented. While women make up about half of all medical students and a third of academic faculty, they are nearly absent in the upper ranks. A recent review in The Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that only 4 percent of full professors are women. Only 12 percent of department chiefs are women. In the survey, men and women were engaged in their work to a similar degree, and both groups had comparable aspirations for leadership roles.

But over all, women did not feel the same sense of inclusion in the medical world as men did. They were not confident about their ability to be promoted, despite their interest in advancement. These findings do not come as a surprise to most women in medicine.

Is it that the medical world remains biased against women, despite the increasing number of women in the ranks? Or is it, as some have postulated, that the culture of the workplace — built around the needs of men for generations — simply remains that way? Despite trends toward more equitable distribution of family responsibilities and more child care services, women still shoulder more of the family burden. For most people, peak career-building years overlap with peak family-building years.

Still, there may be something to the lack of self-confidence and to the inability of some to imagine their getting to the top. So the idea of “possible selves” might be worth exploring. And, as you will see, finally implicit bias is given a place of importance:

There is also the idea of “possible selves.” If you see lots of women who are doctors, a teenager can imagine that for herself as a possible life. But if you never see any women leading a department, it’s much harder for a junior faculty member to envision that job as a possibility.

No one I’ve spoken to feels there is much deliberate bias in medicine these days. But the lingering unconscious bias involving the various waves of newcomers — women, members of racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians — resonates for many.