This site is intended for health professionals only


Woman-kind medicine?



I used to feel immune to gender discrimination. I’d been extremely successful, trained as a doctor and set out on a successful career in medicine. Being female clearly hadn’t affected me!

But this was incredibly naive. Looking back, I’d failed to recognise the complex nature of oppression when I held this view. I was blind to my own significant privilege. As a white, middle-class, educated, heterosexual, cisgendered woman, clearly the discrimination was tempered.

However, subtle hues of gender discrimination colour every part of our society. I haven’t been exempt from this.

As a junior doctor and as a GP, I’ve been repeatedly referred to as ‘nurse’, even when I’ve introduced myself as a doctor, simply because my face fits more easily into that role.

I’ve been asked in work interviews if I intend to have children, and one former employer joked: ‘Aren’t you proud of us? We chose the best person for the job even though you’ll go off on maternity leave!’.

Every woman has – knowingly or unknowingly – made adjustments to herself to make herself more acceptable to her situation. This is ostensibly because male was, and still is, the standard; the default in our society. Many of the adjustments I made and the inequities I faced growing up were so normal that they were almost invisible. We are all products of a society that has silently but repeatedly taught us that men are more important than women.

An experience of being overlooked for a role at work made me reexamine this underlying culture of the workplace being skewed in favour of men.

I’d stepped into the arena and asked about joining a GP partnership, hoping to gain the ability to influence change. I was told that there wasn’t an opportunity in the near future. Not many months passed before one of my male, salaried GP colleagues, who worked similar hours to me, sheepishly took me aside and confessed that the GP partners had asked him to join the partnership.

The partners were surprised to know that I was upset and felt gender could have played a role. It was simply the case that they wanted a partner who could work full-time hours.

They felt that my colleague would be more likely to be able to fulfill this commitment, and hence I’d been eliminated from the running. I found this difficult to swallow.

Objectively, I felt that I was the better candidate. I was more involved in the workings of the practice, I’d been there longer and was a more experienced GP. I’d argue that my ‘softer’ traditionally female-assigned skills would have been invaluable to the business and a successful future.

I know that the doctors involved are all good people. So I accept that they may not have consciously considered my gender when deciding who they wanted as their next partner. However, I have no doubt in my mind that unconscious bias tainted their decision-making. Unless they had brought the gender issue into consciousness, how could it not?

Key to change is the fact that we cannot see the changes needed to establish gender parity in leadership as a woman’s issue. Men need to be part of the solution. They need to champion women and support talented female colleagues. We need to work in partnership to break down the inherent systemic barriers.

Gender equity means giving people access to resources and support they need to be successful. We need to recognise that, fairly or unfairly, the role of caregiver, whether to children or parents, is still a predominantly female role in our society.

Therefore, women are likely to benefit more from initiatives like flexible working hours. It’s outdated and simply not true that leadership roles cannot be part-time positions. We also need to recognise women have different life experiences to men and provide appropriate support.

Today, this conversation still feels uncomfortable and often makes men in the workplace defensive. This needs to change. Women and men need to champion women. Those with privilege need to hold the door open to those with less. It’s the responsibility of us with more entitlement to raise others up and invite them to the table.

‘We can change things’ – novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie encapsulates that change is possible so clearly in her 2013 TED Talk: ‘We should all be feminists’

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”

Dr Lisa Finnikin is a salaried GP in Sutton Coldfield

READERS' COMMENTS [6]

A non 23 July, 2021 12:30 pm

I used to feel immune to gender discrimination. I’d been extremely successful, trained as a doctor and set out on a successful career in medicine. Being male clearly hadn’t affected me!
But this was incredibly naive. Looking back, I’d failed to recognise the complex nature of oppression when I held this view. I was blind to my own significant privilege. As a white, middle-class, educated, heterosexual, cisgendered man, clearly the discrimination was tempered.
However, subtle hues of gender discrimination colour every part of our society. I haven’t been exempt from this.
As a junior doctor and as a GP, I’ve been repeatedly referred to as ‘privileged git’, even when I’ve introduced myself as a doctor, simply because my face fits more easily into that role.
I’ve been asked in work interviews if I intend to try and dominate everything, and one former employer joked: ‘Aren’t you proud of us? We chose the best person for the job even we though you’ll try and take our jobs!’.
Every man has – knowingly or unknowingly – made adjustments to himself to make himself more acceptable to his situation. This is ostensibly because female was, and still is, the preferred; the more agreeable in our society. Many of the adjustments I made and the inequities I faced growing up were so normal that they were almost invisible. We are all products of a society that has silently but repeatedly taught us that women are more deserving than men.

An experience of being overlooked for a role at work made me reexamine this underlying culture of the workplace being skewed in favour of women.
I’d stepped into the arena and asked about joining a GP partnership, hoping to gain the ability to influence change. I was told that there wasn’t an opportunity in the near future. Not many months passed before one of my female, salaried GP colleagues, who worked similar hours to me, sheepishly took me aside and confessed that the GP partners had asked her to join the partnership.
The partners were surprised to know that I was upset and felt gender could have played a role. It was simply the case that they wanted a partner who had emotional intelligence.
They felt that my colleague would be more likely to be able to fulfill this commitment, and hence I’d been eliminated from the running. I found this difficult to swallow.
Objectively, I felt that I was the better candidate. I was more involved in the workings of the practice, I worked longer hours and was a more experienced GP. I’d argue that my ‘harder’ traditionally male-assigned skills would have been invaluable to the business and a successful future.
I know that the doctors involved are all good people. So I accept that they may not have consciously considered my gender when deciding who they wanted as their next partner. However, I have no doubt in my mind that unconscious bias tainted their decision-making. Unless they had brought the gender issue into consciousness, how could it not?
Key to change is the fact that we cannot see the changes needed to establish gender parity in leadership as a man’s issue. Women need to be part of the solution. They need to champion men and support talented male colleagues. We need to work in partnership to break down the inherent systemic barriers.
Gender equity means giving people access to resources and support they need to be successful. We need to recognise that, fairly or unfairly, the role of provider, whether to children or parents, is still a predominantly male role in our society.
Therefore, men are likely to benefit more from initiatives like regular working hours. It’s outdated and simply not true that leadership roles cannot be full-time positions. We also need to recognise men have different life experiences to women and provide appropriate support.
Today, this conversation still feels uncomfortable and often makes women in the workplace defensive. This needs to change. Men and women need to champion men. Those with privilege need to hold the door open to those with less. It’s the responsibility of us with more entitlement to raise others up and invite them to the table.
‘We can change things’ – novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie encapsulates that change is possible so clearly in her 2013 TED Talk: ‘We should all be maleists’
“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of men is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”
Dr A Non is a locum GP of no fixed abode

A C 23 July, 2021 7:25 pm

I am the only man working in me practice out of 25 people. Almost the entirety of the ccg management is female. Almost every professional meeting I go to has, by far, many more women than men at it.

Med school admissions and GP c75% women.

The emancipation and advancement of women is to be celebrated but this is a self serving navel gazing article of self pity.

John Graham Munro 24 July, 2021 9:30 am

Patients don’t want to consult female G.Ps

David Church 26 July, 2021 2:29 pm

A non ‘s argument is very well put.
As a male, it is assumed that you will work full-time (and overtime) and work will take precedence over any family responsibilities you might want to foster.
This is unfair to the partners and children of male doctors, who are discriminated against.
I was told on one occasion (after 2000 !) “You’re not a proper doctor if you are not full-time”.
It’s galling where the accuser actually works less hours because they go home for a long lunch-break or off to play golf between surgeries while I was too far from home to do so, and usually worked through to get the admin done to a reasonable standard!

IDGAF . 26 July, 2021 4:03 pm

David Church- you might get something from contemplating the nature of assumptions ie things taken on-board as ostensibly true without examination of their actual veracity. One has the ability to craft a life for oneself, and if it is constructed in such a way that you do not need the income of a full-time partner then any family responsibilities this crafted life entails can be given more attention. Doctors generally are not thick but most live in a fashion whereby the chosen (or perhaps more accurately, “drifted-into” ) mode of living creates a set of handcuffs which deplete or remove the autonomy they actually have (or had) leading to unconscious living and a mentality of being treated unfairly, or “victims of circumstance”.

This observation could just as well be applied to many female doctors too.

Patrufini Duffy 26 July, 2021 7:57 pm

This profession is toxic enough currently, and I am not sure commenting on this is going to add anything positive. But, what I would say is: <<>> …is not perhaps a desired skill of modern General Practice anymore.