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Time to rebel against pale, male and stale

Dr Zoe Norris

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We’ve been witnessing an increasing ability for women (and men) to speak up about inappropriate behaviour. It’s easy to assume that, for example, #MeToo is unique to the entertainment industry, but many of us in medicine will have examples of such behaviour.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a colleague. He is the stereotypical GP – a 50-something white male. We were chatting about casual sexism in general practice. He was frank about the fact he hadn’t really noticed it, having never felt on the receiving end nor seen colleagues affected by it.

I’m not a delicate wallflower. I’m pretty confident, certainly in a professional environment. Like all female medics I’ve been in situations where I’ve been the only woman. I’m happy to take some overplayed sexism, intended to provoke a rise, and can easily return the general level of chat that inevitably arises on occasion.

What I don’t expect is to have male colleagues telling me they like to see me wearing something different to what I’ve dressed in that day. I don’t expect to sit with a group of male colleagues and hear them relate their sexual conquests. I don’t want to hear an assessment of my female co-workers breasts. I don’t want to hear they are obviously frigid or gay, because a clumsy attempt at a fumble was rebuffed. I don’t want to see colleagues so drunk they can’t remember what they are meant to be doing the next day. I don’t want to be asked to make coffee because it’s a woman’s job.

If everyone there is like you, it’s time to ask who’s missing

My colleague was speechless at some of these examples. He had no idea this kind of behaviour was still happening; he doesn’t do it, so assumed others didn’t either. It was something of a reality check – and my experiences are far from the worst.

Which brings us to equality. Should men and women be paid equally for the same job? Of course. That doesn’t mean we are the same. We have different strengths, weaknesses and abilities. We should be seeking to include colleagues of all backgrounds and genders in our professional groups. The more points of view we hear, the more likely we are to think beyond our own experience.

I’m a woman and therefore in a relative minority when you look at positions in CCGs, on STP boards, within our union, and in government or business. But I have no idea of the experiences of people of other ethnicities, or what it’s like for colleagues who aren’t heterosexual. Women don’t have a monopoly on discrimination.

Next time you’re in a meeting, look around. If everyone there is like you, it’s time to ask who’s missing.

Some 52% of GPs in the UK are female, as many as 40% could be either salaried or locum doctors and 31% describe themselves as black and minority ethnic. Who is making decisions in your practice, your area or your profession? Do they look like those they are supposed to represent?

Final point: a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu, a pagan and an atheist all walk into a coffee shop. They talk, drink, laugh and become good friends. It’s not a joke – it’s what happens when you’re not an asshole.

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull 

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Readers' comments (35)

  • I once turned down a job because during the informal interview it was the female partners who got tasked with making the rest of us tea.

    I’m not virtue signalling, but I know what Zoe means. There is none so blind as those who will not see.

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  • The male GP in his 50s working 8-9 sessions is long gone or a dying bread The stereotypical GP emerging is female, 4-6 sessions per week. Nothing wrong with that but it will have implications on continuity of care, staffing etc.

    I’m glad that working culture is slowly changing to avoid the sort of behaviour you describe but hope things don’t become too “sterile” in the workplace because people are afraid to offend anyone.

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  • Everyone would agree that we should all stand together in our profession against ANY form of racial, sexual or age discrimination.

    So can you start by not using cheap lazy stereotypical discriminatory language like “pale, male and stale” in your article’s title please?

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  • Hi Zoe. Completely agree with the equality agenda but perhaps the title 'pale, male and stale' is shooting yourself in the foot a bit?
    Also if 50 something white males ARE the stereotypical GPs (round here they're not) then no surprise that group would also be representing practices, areas on issues. I see this happening less and less, but perhaps its because this group WERE the stereotype and you're more likely to put yourself forward for this sort of stuff with the benefit of experience behind you.

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  • In fairness to Zoe, we don't always have control over the blog titles and they are often changed to make them more sensationalist

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  • Guilty as charged. Although a phrase that has been used before about a certain organisation...

    http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/news/political-news/pale-male-and-stale-bma-mulls-re-brand/20000490.article

  • All too true. I’m assuming the headline was chosen by Pulse, not Zoe.
    Being distracted by the headline instead of engaging with the content would be a mistake.

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  • For those above, I don't think the title was Zoe's choice, I believe was a Pulse choice? So we can leave that one aside and focus on the article.
    I was asked to make coffee for a GP in CCG meeting when I walked into my staff room to get something from my pigeon hole, because he thought I was the admin staff. I have had the experience of having my points in meetings utterly ignored until repeated by a male colleague. That one happens A LOT in one organisation I work at.
    This behaviour goes on all of the time. Changing it isn't just down to us women, it is down to all colleagues calling it out when they see it, male or female.

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  • Brilliant article as always. Other commentators may need to reflect that it's not women who have the monopoly over working 6 sessions. A majority of my male colleagues and almost all those males who are of my cohort do similar.

    Clearly the headline is written by the copy editor, the author does not have that editorial control.

    Beautifully pithily put as always Zoe.

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  • Dear Zoe, it is a shame the editors at Pulse attached this title because although it does grab attention,it does detract from the excellent points in this article. I have been lucky enough that the colleagues I have worked closely with over the years have been inspiring and not exhibited any unacceptable behaviours but in some settings, my own experience has been very different and at times offensive -like yourself am no wallflower so I am confident and comfortable addressing this head on but I do hope that the minority who behave inappropriately stop and I believe that need not be at the expense of retaining a vibrant fun and effective working environment.

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  • @Editor
    Ha! Ha!
    Fair enough Nigel.
    PS well done Zoe on leading off the no confidence in GMC motion. I hope it goes through for both Drs and patients.

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