The value of diversity within our academic critical care community – in our clinicians, educators, and scientists – is indisputable. Without the diversity which reflects our wider communities, we cannot understand the needs and perspectives of our patients, nor adequately represent them.
In many countries, women now outnumber men in medical schools, and their numbers are rising within critical care. However, women remain under-represented in influential and important scholarly and academic critical care activities, including clinical practice guidelines, on journal editorial boards, and as conference speakers. There is no consensus about the target percentage of women who should participate in these scholarly activities. Suggested targets include the percentage of women physicians practicing critical medicine, or the percentage of women who are engaged in scholarly activities (researchers, educators, QI).
As a starting point we sought to obtain a global perspective of women’s participation in the critical care physician workforce. Using a multi-faceted approach, our objective was to collect international data on women trainees and faculty, as well as women in leadership, board, and conference speaker roles.
Women are starkly under-represented in critical care leadership positions, on councils and boards, and as symposium faculty.
Most remarkable among our findings was the dearth of demographic data – the majority of national societies do not collect gender data on the physician workforce, particularly in low and middle income countries. In some high income countries, the percentage of female critical care trainees and specialists approaches 40%, but there is wide geographic variability. Nevertheless, women are starkly under-represented in critical care leadership positions, on councils and boards, and as symposium faculty.
Our study did not evaluate the myriad reasons for the gender imbalance. Clearly, there are many issues to be further explored. Future research should evaluate the challenges faced by women (such as maternity leave and familial responsibilities), the barriers to their full participation in the critical care workforce and important scholarly activities, and strategies to increase the involvement of women and other under-represented groups.
The road towards global gender equity will be long. However, to guide progress in this area and rectify the gender imbalance within critical care, we need global workforce demographic data, and we need men and women within our community to speak up about gender disparities.
Our study highlights the significant gaps in data on women’s participation in the global critical care physician workforce. Hopefully, these findings will encourage international societies to collect workforce demographic data, and will stimulate further research on the barriers to women’s success, as well as potential solutions for the gender gap.