Sexism and sexual harassment at the BMABMJ 2019; 367 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l6200 (Published 25 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6200
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Professor Dacre's analysis of the BMA's recent investigation into its internal behavioural challenges makes clear the long journey that many medical organisations and workplaces still need to travel before women feel accepted on their own terms and not as tolerated members of a gentleman's club.
This is far from unique to the BMA, which has taken steps to address such matters for much longer than any present leadership (who rightly are continuing to drive this agenda). In fact the senior governing body of the BMA (the Representative Body) has a long tradition of diversity in its leadership including its Chairs - the Chair of the RB being one of four Chief Officers of the BMA. Many BMA Presidents have also been women. The BMA has a relatively flat democratic structure which has demonstrated far more diversity amongst its leadership than is often given credit. This is by no means to suggest there is not considerably further to go to encourage female and other colleagues of the value they can bring by taking on leadership roles throughout the organisation. Behaviours certainly need to change; reversing a tendency towards a narrowing leadership hierarchy - real or perceived - may be almost as important.
Competing interests: I am a former chair of the Representative Body and a former member of Council.
It is unfortunate that in her otherwise depressingly accurate opinion editorial Professor Jane Dacre unwittingly misrepresented the leadership of the British Medical Association. This gives me the chance to clarify the more promising evolution of our democratic leadership which tells a more positive narrative but is perhaps less exciting than the sensationalist but incorrect headline that we have never had a female chair.
In her in-depth report Daphne Romney QC was careful to make clear that the BMA has never had a female chair of Council but that we have had three chairs of our Representative Body, two in succession, and also with the current Deputy chair being both a woman and a BAME doctor.
At our Annual Representative meeting, five hundred and thirty BMA members are elected by their peers to represent the views of medical students and doctors across the UK from every branch of practice proportionately and without gender constraints. These representatives elect their chair every three years by STV and have chosen to successively elect women, contrasting with our Council of sixty plus, many of whom are already well-known chairs to their constituents but may have been active in medico politics decades (with no limits to terms of office) and despite the most recent election being gender constrained remain disproportionately more likely to be men.
Thus, the election of three women to one of our three chief officer roles without gender constraints shows how the ordinary BMA doctor has moved forward and our central committee structures must change, albeit through temporary quotas and time-limited terms as recommended in the Romney report.
Competing interests: I am the elected chair of the BMA's representative body and BMA chief officer. The Romney report criticises the leadership of the BMA
These are serious allegations relating to elected officials of the BMA yet they are neither named nor is there any report as to what steps are being taken to confirm the allegations so that they can be named.
The perpetrators may well still be in office and I do not wish to be represented by people who behave like this.
Will they be named before the next election?
Competing interests: No competing interests
I read the article by Dacre with some surprise and sadness (1). I am particularly sad, as the BMA has had allegations of racism, discrimination and sexism in the past (I hope this is all resolved). This lovely editorial piece highlighting the importance of the issue and emphasising the importance of culture and mindset change is everybody’s responsibility. I do not believe any medical organisations in the UK, including the BMA, should be accused as a whole. Yes, there may be some individuals who did or have been doing wrong. These allegations should be investigated meticulously, not only inhouse but also in court with all transparency, and the culprits should be brought to justice.
As everybody knows, to err is human, and nobody will ever be able to change this. However, that is absolutely not a justification for being consistently / deliberately sexist, discriminating, abusive or racist. We — as doctors— are role models for the public and should not let anybody to ruin our good reputation and trust. Discrimination against women unfortunately has existed for centuries but this has begun to change especially in this millennium. There are lots of articles published in The BMJ, Lancet, etc. If you make a full text search about “sexism” on bmj.com, you will find more than 200 BMJ full articles addressing the issue back to 1976. There is a relatively recent good review article about gender equality in science, medicine and global health in the Lancet (2). They found that “the amount and quality of gender data are improving over time, women are making progress but remain disadvantaged, men’s roles are expanding but are limited by restrictive gender norms, and information on the transgender community is scarce” (2), and they also mention it’s a complex multifaceted issue.
I agree that to err is human, but sexism, sexual harresment, discrimination, racism, dishonesty, unfairness should be eradicated from all compartments of society and allegations should be investigated thoroughly in a “no ifs, ands, or buts” way, and I wish that the latest allegations against “my BMA” will be the last.
1. Dacre J. Sexism and sexual harresment at the BMA. BMJ 2019; 367:I6200.
2. Shannon G, Jansen M, Williams K, et al. Gender equality in science, medicine, and global health: where are we at and why does it matter? Lancet 2019; 393: 560-569.
Competing interests: No competing interests