Playing golf can lead to academic promotions. But women often are left out of the club.

One reason women struggle to advance in academic medicine is they are often excluded from male-dominated networking activities such as golf, research suggests. 

The research sought to better understand why women are less likely to reach the top levels of leadership in academic medicine. As of April 2022, just seven of the 71 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers are directed by women. As of 2018, women accounted for 16 percent of medical school deans, 18 percent of department chairs and 25 percent of full-time professors, according to the report, published April 8 in The Conversation.

Jennifer Grandis, MD, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of California San Francisco, interviewed 52 female and 52 male faculty members at 16 university medical centers across the U.S. in 2019. 

In the interviews, Dr. Grandis said 51 of the 52 men and 50 of the 52 women reported that networking is critical for career advancement. Additionally, 73 percent of women and 42 percent of men brought up the term "boys club" despite the fact the interview questions never mentioned the term. 

The interviewees flagged the golf course as one of the most important places networking happens. Twenty-nine percent of men and 38 percent of women said key relationships are built during golf outings.  

“Big decisions are made on the golf course," one male physician said. 

A woman in academic medicine said: "All the powerful events here happen on the golf course. And it’s not like the men are ever going to let you in that foursome," according to the study.

The research also found women are absent from other informal networking activities. Of the 52 male interviewees, 30 mentioned watching or playing sports, five discussed hunting or fishing and five mentioned strip clubs. 

"Many women in academic medicine are fully qualified to advance to the highest levels, yet they are not represented proportionally," Dr. Grandis wrote. "My research shows that exclusion from networking opportunities is one of the reasons."

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