The perceived organizational impact of the gender gap across a Canadian department of medicine and proposed strategies to combat it: a qualitative study

BMC Med. 2018 Apr 10;16(1):48. doi: 10.1186/s12916-018-1032-8.


Background: Despite the gender parity existing in medical schools for over three decades, women remain underrepresented in academic medical centers, particularly in senior ranks and in leadership roles. This has consequences for patient care, education, research, and workplace culture within healthcare organizations. This study was undertaken to explore the perspectives of faculty members at a single department of medicine on the impact of the existing gender gap on organizational effectiveness and workplace culture, and to identify systems-based strategies to mitigate the gap.

Methods: The study took place at a large university department of medicine in Toronto, Canada, with six affiliated hospitals. In this qualitative study, semi-structured individual interviews were conducted between May and September 2016 with full-time faculty members who held clinical and university-based appointments. Transcripts of the interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis. Three authors independently reviewed the transcripts to determine a preliminary list of codes and establish a coding framework. A modified audit consensus coding approach was applied; a single analyst reviewed all the transcripts and a second analyst audited 20% of the transcripts in each round of coding. Following each round, inter-rater reliability was determined, discrepancies were resolved through discussion, and modifications were made as needed to the coding framework. The analysis revealed faculty members' perceptions of the gender gap, potential contributing factors, organizational impacts, and possible solutions to bridge the gap.

Results: Of the 43 full-time faculty members who participated in the survey (29 of whom self-identified as female), most participants were aware of the existing gender gap within academic medicine. Participants described social exclusion, reinforced stereotypes, and unprofessional behaviors as consequences of the gap on organizational effectiveness and culture. They suggested improvements in (1) the processes for recruitment, hiring, and promotion; (2) inclusiveness of the work environment; (3) structures for mentorship; and (4) ongoing monitoring of the gap.

Conclusion: The existing gender gap in academic medicine may have negative consequences for organizational effectiveness and workplace culture but many systems-based strategies to mitigate the gap exist. Although these solutions warrant rigorous evaluation, they are feasible to institute within most healthcare organizations immediately.

Keywords: Academic medicine; Equity; Gender gap; Healthcare human resources; Organizational effectiveness; Workplace culture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Faculty, Medical / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reproducibility of Results