Proportion of Female Speakers at Academic Medical Conferences Across Multiple Specialties and Regions

JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Sep 1;3(9):e2018127. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.18127.


Importance: Women in medicine have been underrepresented at medical conferences; however, contributing factors have not been well studied.

Objective: To examine the distribution of invited conference speakers by gender and factors associated with representation of women as speakers.

Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional analysis used medical conference programs from March 2017 to November 2018 across 20 specialties in 5 regions (Australasia, Canada, Europe, the UK, and the US) that were obtained online or from conference conveners.

Exposures: Gender of invited lecturers, panelists, and planning committee members for each conference based on name or picture and publicly available data on compositions of specialties by gender for included regions.

Main outcomes and measures: Outcomes included the proportion of female speakers (invited lecturers and panelists), the number of single-gender panels, and the proportion of female speakers compared with the specialties' gender composition. Correlations between the gender composition of conference planning committees and the proportion of female speakers were assessed. Multivariable regression models were used to evaluate factors independently associated with the proportion of female speakers at conferences.

Results: A total of 8535 sessions (panels and invited lectures) with 23 440 speakers across 98 conferences were identified. Women accounted for 7064 (30.1%) of speakers; 1981 of 5409 panels (36.6%) consisted of men only, and 363 (6.7%) consisted of women only. The proportion of women speakers varied by region and specialty from 5.8% to 74.5%. In general, specialties with low baseline proportions of women (<20%) had a ratio of female speakers to female specialists greater than 1, whereas specialties with high baseline proportions of women (>40%) had a ratio of female speakers to female specialists less that 1. There was a strong positive correlation between the proportion of women on planning committees and conference representation of female speakers (r = 0.67; P < .001). The association remained statistically significant after controlling for other variables, including the regional gender balance of the specialty (odds ratio, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.04-1.15; P < .001 for every 10% increase in the proportion of women on the planning committee).

Conclusions and relevance: In this cross-sectional study, the proportion of female speakers at medical conferences was lower than that of male speakers, and more than one-third of panels were composed of men only. Increasing the number of women on planning committees may help address gender inequities.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Congresses as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Women / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexism / statistics & numerical data*
  • Societies, Medical / statistics & numerical data*