Gender gap persists in two key aspects of Australian endocrinology

Female endocrinologists are still underrepresented in leadership roles and as top speakers at scientific meetings in Australia, a new study shows.

While women account for the majority of endocrinology specialists in Australia, an analysis of meetings held by diabetes and endocrinology groups has found that men still occupy the majority of positions as plenary speakers and as group council members.

Dr Lisa Raven and Dr Ann McCormack of the Department of Endocrinology, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, analysed gender-based participation rates at annual meetings of the  Australian Diabetes Society, Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society and the Endocrine Society between 2016 – 2020.

Based on figures from 17 conferences involving a total of 1638 speakers they found that gender balance was achieved in the proportion of speakers overall, with the proportion of female speakers (52.3%) in more than 500 hours of presentations similar to the proportion of women in endocrinology.

However, there was a male predominance of around 60% among plenary speakers across all three societies (ADS 61% male, ANZBMS 60%, ESA 59%).

Gender parity was also observed in the proportion of session chairs, of whom 51.5% were female. There was an increase in the proportion of female speakers and session chairs from 2016 to 2020.

However, of 153 council members across all societies for the years 2016-2020, only 39% female.

The authors noted there had been a downward trend in female representation on ADS council from 50% in 2016 to 30% in 2020, and an upward trend in female officer bearers on ESA council (27% to 40%) while females continued to represent 40% of positions across these years on ANZBMS council. The proportion of females in more senior positions (office bearers) on both ESA and ANZBMS councils remained at 25% between 2017 and 2020.

They said it was reassuring to see women represented equally at the overall level at scientific meeting, but the under-representation as plenary speakers needed to be addressed. Some of the difference might be due to female endocrinologists being on average eight years younger than male specialists, they suggested.

“It could be anticipated that given the increasing proportion of female trainees and younger average age of female versus male endocrine consultants in Australia, that it is likely that in future years more invited speaker roles will have female representation,” they wrote.

However it was also important to address the gender imbalance in leadership roles within societies, they added.

“Professional scientific societies play a crucial role in advancing women in science … having appropriate female academic role models and mentors is an important factor in addressing gender disparities,” they wrote.

While setting targets may be useful, organisational interventions would also be vital to overcome established structural barriers such as flexibility around family commitments, they said.

“Mentoring, networking, and leadership development have been identified as key interventions, and scientific societies and their conferences should be facilitating this,” they concluded.

The findings are published in Frontiers in Endocrinology.

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