Education programs can help boost awareness for gender discrimination

Gender discrimination still persists in the workforce, but hospitals and health systems are working to address it, particularly for midcareer women. 

According to a Harvard Business Review survey of more than 100 female senior executives, half said they experienced the most gender discrimination in their mid-30s to late 40s. 

One of the three main challenges women in the survey reported was unfair assumptions made about them at this point in their career. 

"There's a little more skepticism and scrutiny perhaps," said Julie Oyler, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine Women's Committee at the University of Chicago Medicine. "And we definitely in medicine get that competence versus likeability double bind."

The double bind is a concept often used to explain a phenomenon that women experience, constantly toeing the line between either being too nice or too assertive. 

Dr. Oyler said, in medicine, she sees this happen in patient care. 

"There's a little bit more of an expectation that we have a social relationship, not just a doctor-patient relationship, and while I think that is good for patient care and definitely helps me have stronger relationships, I think that same expectation is not always there with my male colleagues," Dr. Oyler said. 

Lisette Martinez, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health, said this discrimination is especially clear for women of color whose work often goes unrecognized. 

"You often see women of color serving as mentors, they serve on committees, they are representative on many leadership groups, but a lot of times it's unrecognized, especially by higher ranks," Ms. Martinez said. "We want to be sure we address it. It's seen all over, across the board."

Ms. Martinez said one way to address it is by establishing mentorship programs to establish a level of confidence in a way that is respectful yet assertive. 

"We want to arm people with the right tools to help them at all levels. Midcareer, especially, because they're ready to make that move," Ms. Martinez said. "Helping people how to speak up, getting noticed, having a mentor."

One way this can be addressed, Dr. Oyler said, is to support women in having children by promoting maternity and paternity leave for employees. 

As the chair of the Women's Committee at UChicago Medicine, Dr. Oyler helped to develop the Gender Equity and Ethics lecture series as part of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. The series will bring together women, allies and other scholars to address how gender equity has affected medicine and look at what other work needs to be done. 

"Awareness is the first approach and … awareness is improving it," Dr. Oyler said. 

Jefferson Health is also taking an educational approach to addressing gender discrimination in the workplace. 

One program, Lean In, is launching Oct. 12 by bringing together women within the organization to read Lean In by Nell Scovell and Sheryl Sandberg and then discuss and work on these methods for themselves. 

"We want folks to feel they have the capabilities and the confidence to move forward, and having us as that group to make that happen is so incredibly important," Ms. Martinez said.

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