July 2017: Neurology Must Address Gender Disparity Issues
According to the 2016 data in our most recent AAN Insights Report, women now comprise 36.8 percent of the AAN membership; among US neurologists, 31.5 percent are women. This is significant growth since 2008, when women were only 29 percent of all AAN members and 24.7 percent of US neurologists. Residency programs are training increasing numbers of women in our profession. Despite the increasing women among our neurology work force, some alarming statistics were published last year demonstrating gender disparities particularly among neurology.
We evaluated the evidence in this article very seriously and acted swiftly. Last November, then-President Terrence Cascino reported to members that the Academy had formed a Gender Disparity Task Force, chaired by Board member Elaine C. Jones, MD, FAAN. The charge to the task force was to gather information and statistics on disparities in pay and other types of discrimination that women face in our profession and make recommendations to the AAN Board of how to address these issues. The 11-person task force convened four times in as many months to examine gender disparities as they play out in compensation, professional advancement, leadership opportunities, and work/life balance. I want to personally acknowledge their hard work in rapidly addressing this important problem.
These are the causes the Gender Disparity Task Force identified for disparities:
- Lack of salary transparency, leading to female neurologists not being aware of their colleagues' salaries and not having relevant data for negotiation.
- Absence of negotiating and networking by women, rooted in a difference in how the genders approach both tasks.
- Bias and, in particular, implicit bias which can color major decisions without being detected.
- Penalty for work/life balance and family responsibility, based on the higher likelihood that women will assume caretaking roles in their personal lives.
The Task force made these recommendations for the AAN to consider implementing as we address these issues:
- Lead by example by reporting percentages of women involved in AAN leadership, and by continuing to promote gender-friendly work practices. Currently, 42 percent of the members on the AAN and AAN Institute Boards of Directors are women. Among the six AAN and AAN Institute officers, three are women. Of the seven members of the Academy's executive staff, three are women.
- Continue to enhance leadership education options for female AAN members, such as the new Women Leading in Neurology Program that begins Fall of 2017.
- Improve transparency by sharing neurology compensation and productivity data and developing resources that explain requirements for various career stages, while also leveraging relationships to encourage similar transparency from other medical associations and public institutions.
- Address bias by making available survey tools that reveal implicit biases, as well as by writing articles or AAN publications on the topic.
- Develop mentors by training men and women leaders to mentor women, by creating networking opportunities for women, and by highlighting female neurologists who have achieved leadership roles or professional success.
- Promote different practice options to support work/life balance.
- Offer a scholarship or research fund to support relevant scholarship on the subject.
- Explore legislative options that have been successful elsewhere while also updating the Code of Professional Conduct to reflect the AAN's stance on gender disparity.
- Conduct further investigation and publish the results.
As the AAN works to implement the recommendations above, we ask that you take action and participate in these programs and resources to address disparity and bias in your workplace. It's typically easier to spot the foibles of others than our own. But each of us should give some thought about how we may casually accept these disparities and perhaps even, consciously or subconsciously, perpetuate them. Our profession needs to attract and retain the best and brightest minds and we can't afford to deter or lose good people-whether because of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality-simply because of archaic thinking rooted in a prejudicial culture of the past.
We must continue to be guided by the core values of our AAN that include leadership, integrity, professionalism, commitment, respect, and compassion. Last year, we added a new and critical core value: diversity and equality. We commit to building and sustaining an inclusive organization that respects and values the diversity of our membership and the communities we serve, and promotes equality in professional advancement and compensation.
I hope you will join me in helping ensure our profession is open, welcoming, and provides equal opportunities on a level playing field where we all are judged solely by our skills, experience, and performance of our duties in service to our patients and all humanity. Let's all work together to address and eliminate gender disparities.