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Gender bias to be tackled by Medical Schools Council review

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1735 (Published 30 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1735
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. 1BMJ Careers
  1. limb{at}btinternet.com

The Medical Schools Council has launched a review to improve equality and diversity in the council. It follows concerns over the “small number” of women deans and “gender bias” in the profession. The Equality Challenge Unit, a registered charity funded through the UK higher education funding bodies and which supports equality and diversity in higher education institutions, has confirmed that it will work on a joint review with the Medical Schools Council and the Dental Schools Council.

The unit supports the Athena SWAN charter, an initiative that arose from the 1999-2007 Athena project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN) to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine, and mathematics. The Athena SWAN process is designed to help participating institutions identify key obstacles to sex equality and to implement their own policies to overcome them.

Iain Cameron, chair of the Medical Schools Council, told the Athena SWAN newsletter, “We need to act now to get this right. The Athena SWAN process will provide a crucial next step for the council to identify how best to promote and ensure gender equality across the sector. There is clearly much to do.”

The two councils will set up a joint equality and diversity advisory group, with representation from both sexes and comprising academics at different stages of their career, to oversee the review. Scoping work has been carried out to “understand the issues and barriers facing women,” particularly at the Medical Schools Council itself. The council has 34 member medical schools, but only two members of the council are women. A recent analysis of data on meetings and networks showed “a positive trend, with more women attending and taking on key roles though not for every group.”

Both councils said that they were keen to look at equality and diversity as a whole, as well as the “gender focus of the Athena SWAN review process.” They said that women in the professions faced “unconscious barriers” in their careers such as the perception of an “old boys’ club,” networking out of hours, and “same gender appointment panels.”

Cameron said in the newsletter that it was “encouraging” that the Equality Challenge Unit had also identified examples of good practice across medical and dental schools.

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