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Exclusive: Women GPs locked out of leading jobs

By Lilian Anekwe

Women GPs are hitting a glass ceiling in their careers and failing to make it to the top jobs in the profession, a Pulse investigation has found.

The number of female GPs on the profession's representative bodies has barely changed in five years, even as overall numbers grow rapidly.

The proportion of women in general practice has risen by 27.5% in five years - from 12,596 in 2002 to 16,055 in 2007.

But the increase is not reflected at the most senior levels of the profession.

Since 2003, the number of women on the GPC has risen from 13 out of 91 in 2003 to just 15 out of 83 in 2008. Similarly, only 15 of the 63-strong RCGP council are women, up just one from five years ago.

The pattern is mirrored at LMC level. Over the past five years, the proportion of female committee members rose marginally from 20.8% in 2003/4 to 21.2% in 2008/9. But the number of female chairs fell over the same period, from 30% to 20%.

One senior female GP, who did not wish to be named, told Pulse: ‘I think there is a glass ceiling. But I think it's not due to sexism, it's due to something much more complex than that.

‘It might be that there are different ways that men and women behave. So it's not necessarily that we're prevented from being represented but the way the work is done will preclude women from being a part of it.

‘Committees work late into the night – often involving alcohol – and that does not appeal to women. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.'

A snap poll of female GPs found more than 90% of female GPs felt they were not adequately represented on professional medical bodies, and 81.5% felt there were not enough women on the GPC.

Dr Sally Mason, a GP in Northolt, Middlesex, said she had been put off applying for roles on professional committee because of a perceived male dominance.

‘There is ‘male-speak' where men tend to talk in their own code, very business orientated, and I would feel wary of being out of my depth,' she said.

Dr Katharine Broad, a GP in Wimbledon, south London, said: ‘I am not a member of a professional body, partly because I don't think we have any power to enable change.'

The BMA said it was worried by the lack of women standing for committees.

‘While the monitoring data show the number of women standing for BMA committees is increasing, we are aware it is still too low. We are continually looking for ways to increase the number of women who want to participate in BMA work.'

An RCGP spokesperson said: The proportion of women has not changed substantially across the period. While it is rare that any committee reflects the proportion of women currently in the profession women have played a leading role across the RCGP throughout its history.'

Dr Beth McCarron-Nash: GPC needs to improve women's representation Dr Beth McCarron-Nash: GPC needs to improve women's representation

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