Danielle Ofri, a doctor writing Thursday on the New York Times‘ Well blog, considers why women haven’t ascended the top ranks of the medical field as much as men.
The post starts off with an anecdote about how bathroom-door reversal — which makes ingress and egress easier for pregnant women and those with bags and purses — was perceived by her medical suite as a victory for the women workers.
“Upon witnessing my daily struggle to wedge myself and my soon-to-be-born offspring into the stall, my female office mates began a petition to reverse the bathroom doors,” Ofri wrote. “Admittedly there are more pressing needs in medicine, but the administrators, secretaries and members of the clerical staff rallied to the cause, and eventually victory was achieved just before my son was born. We even had a party to celebrate the now-famed reversal of the doors. All the women from the suite attended.”
At that time, Ofri then realized that “of all of the women who worked in that suite of 30-odd offices, I was the only physician; every other woman was administrative. As I mentally surveyed the men who had offices in the suite, all but one were doctors and all were in the upper echelons of the department.”
She points out that women now comprise some 50 percent of all medical students and 33 percent of medical faculty, but that ” 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.”
Generally speaking, Ofri argued, women still don’t “feel the same sense of inclusion in the medical world as men.”
She asks why, providing the kind of constructive, nuanced explanation that could help ameliorate this problem.
Though I do take issue with the claim that direct bias doesn’t play a large role — let’s face it, ladies: boys clubs are still big in most profesh fields — she points to other issues that we must address.
As indicated in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic cover story, workplace culture generally isn’t family friendly, disproportionately disadvantaging women.
Why, you might ask?
As study after study points out, the burden of household and family duties do typically fall on women.
This, of course, can be a hurdle in career mobility, as “peak career-building years overlap with peak family-building years.”
This makes total sense.
If we’re going to change the American workplace so that it reflects positive attitudes about gender and employment — that women are as capable and have as important a role as men — society either needs to reconsider the distribution of parenting and households tasks or examine core tenets of workplace culture.
Here’s what I’m not to sure about:
Ofri also alludes to the notion of “‘possible selves.’”
“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,” she writes. “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.”
While I’m not doubting that possible selves probably play a role in psychological development, I’m not entirely sold that it’s DEF make-or-break for an individual, since there’s a fair amount of observational (and probably empirical) evidence that would suggest otherwise.
That’s to say, if possible selves were a SUPER strong predictor of human behavior, how do we explain away the many individuals who transcended the societally-proferred notions of what they should/should not be (based upon gender, race, class, etc.) and become what they wanted anyway?
Then again, that’s kind of a clusterfuck of a question, as it goes back to the whole nature/nurture debate that will never, ever be solved.