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One in Three Female Cardiologists Sexually Harassed at Work and Half are Victims of Sexism

The research conducted by Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology raises questions about the welfare and career prospects of women in cardiology.

New findings by researchers in Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology reveal that more than a third (36%) of female cardiologists have experienced sexual harassment at work, including attempted sexual assault, inappropriate touching and intrusive questions about their sex life and comments about breasts.

In the survey completed by 174 cardiologists, one female participant said that there were so many examples of sexual harassment in cardiology that she found it impossible to list them and suggested that the problem is as endemic in cardiology as it is in the film industry. Some male cardiologists (6%) had also experienced sexual harassment, such as unwanted advances from women at work and unwanted gifts of a sexual nature.

Over half (52%) of female cardiologists have experienced workplace sexism, giving examples such as being ignored, intimidated and undermined by male cardiologists; being prevented from doing certain types of cardiology training; and even being told not to have any more children. In contrast, 2% of male cardiologists in the research had experienced sexism.

Some male cardiologists acknowledged that sexism is endemic in the profession and one said that cardiology would be a very difficult choice for a female who wants to start a family because it is not a “family-friendly” speciality. Another male cardiologist said that the gender biases are there, complex and often subconscious.

Compared to female cardiologists, male cardiologists were significantly more likely to be married with children and to have a spouse who is responsible for all the childcare. They were also significantly less likely to have had a career interrupted by parental leave and they reported significantly less parenting-related discrimination than female cardiologists.

The research showed that sexual harassment affected the professional confidence of many female cardiologists, potentially making them unfairly question their clinical judgement when working with patients and other cardiologists and limiting their career aspirations.

Dr Shareen Jaijee, a cardiologist who carried out the research from Birkbeck, said: “Our research confirms anecdotal reports that, even in contemporary society, female cardiologists experience sexism and sexual harassment at work, as well as obstacles and gender biases that hinder their career advancement. This is unacceptable and should be urgently addressed by healthcare leaders and organisations.”

Birkbeck’s Dr Caroline Kamau-Mitchell, who supervised the research, said, “Medicine currently has a relatively equal proportion of female doctors (48% in the UK) yet only 13.3% of UK cardiologists are women. Our research found that sexism levels in cardiology have remained the same over the past sixteen years and it is likely that many female doctors are not choosing cardiology because of that. Future research is urgently needed to test interventions against sexism in cardiology, and to protect the welfare of female cardiologists at work.”

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