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01-09-2020 | Health services research | Highlight | News

Research highlights gender disparities in academic rheumatology

Author: Claire Barnard


medwireNews: Women are less likely than men to hold senior academic rheumatology positions and are under-represented as senior authors of published research articles, suggest findings from two studies published in Arthritis & Rheumatology.

Rheumatology is a “specialty comprised nearly equally of women and men,” say the authors of the first study, noting that women represented 41% of the workforce and 66% of rheumatology fellows in a 2015 American College of Rheumatology survey, while “[p]rojections suggest that women will comprise the majority of the rheumatology workforce by 2025.”

To evaluate gender equity in faculty and leadership positions in the USA, April Jorge (Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA) and team carried out a cross-sectional study of all 6125 practicing rheumatologists in the country using a database of licensed physicians. Of these, 15% had an academic faculty appointment in 2014.

Among the 390 female academic rheumatologists, just 12.6% were professors and 17.5% associate professors, compared with a respective 36.8% and 28.0% of male academic rheumatologists. After adjustment for “several factors known to influence faculty promotion” including age, time since graduation, grants, and publications, women were a significant 22.0% less likely to be full or associate professors than men.

On the other hand, Jorge et al found that a similar proportion of women compared with men were in leadership roles including program director (13.6 vs 11.6%) and division director (8.7 vs 13.4%) after adjustment for potentially confounding factors.

These findings suggest that women may face “barriers to academic promotion despite representation in leadership positions within rheumatology divisions,” write the study authors.

They speculate that the observed differences “may reflect how decisions regarding who will be advanced through academic and leadership ranks are based on different factors,” with academic promotion typically prioritizing “stringent productivity requirements in the research setting” as indicated by publications and grant funding, whereas “selection for academic leadership roles may be based on other attributes such as interpersonal, mentorship, and leadership skills.”

The findings from the second study support this hypothesis, showing that women are less likely to be senior authors on rheumatology research papers than men, particularly for clinical trial publications.

Nicola Dalbeth (University of Auckland, New Zealand) and team analyzed 7651 published research articles on rheumatic diseases, of which approximately half (51.5%) had women as first authors, but just 35.3% had women as senior authors.

They say that the “most striking gender disparities” were seen for randomized controlled trial (RCT) publications, with “low proportions” of women as both first (33.3%) and senior (26.4%) authors. In unadjusted analyses, women were a significant 41% less likely to be senior authors on articles reporting RCTs compared with articles reporting other types of research, and had a significant 19% lower likelihood of being senior authors on industry-funded research relative to studies not involving industry funding.

“These findings highlight the importance of institutional and industry leaders to take steps to ensure that women are represented equally as the future gender gap in the rheumatology workforce narrows,” say Dalbeth et al.

medwireNews is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Ltd. © 2020 Springer Healthcare Ltd, part of the Springer Nature Group

Arthritis Rheumatol 2020; doi:10.1002/art.41492
Arthritis Rheumatol 2020; doi:10.1002/art.41490