In a study appearing in the May 17 issue of JAMA, Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues conducted a survey of clinician-researchers on career and personal experiences, including questions on gender bias and sexual harassment.
In a 1995 survey, 52 percent of U.S. academic medical faculty women reported harassment in their careers compared with 5 percent of men. These women had begun their careers when women constituted a minority of the medical school class; less is known about the prevalence of such experiences among more recent faculty cohorts.
This study included 1,719 new recipients of career development awards (K-awards) from the National Institutes of Health in 2006-2009. The response rate to the survey was 62 percent (1,066 individuals). Average respondent age was 43 years; 46 percent were women; 71 percent were white. Women were more likely than men to report perceptions (70 percent vs 22 percent) and experience (66 percent vs 10 percent) of gender bias in their careers. Women were more likely to report having personally experienced sexual harassment (30 percent vs 4 percent). Among women reporting harassment (n = 150), 40 percent described more severe forms, 59 percent perceived a negative effect on confidence in themselves as professionals, and 47 percent reported that these experiences negatively affected their career advancement.
"Although a lower proportion reported these experiences [sexual harassment] than in a 1995 sample, the difference appears large given that the women began their careers after the proportion of female medical students exceeded 40 percent," the authors write.
"Recognizing sexual harassment is important because perceptions that such experiences are rare may, ironically, increase stigmatization and discourage reporting. Efforts to mitigate the effect of unconscious bias in the workplace and eliminate more overtly inappropriate behaviors are needed."