Half of female doctors delay having children

Discrimination, “pigeon-holing”, delaying having children for the sake of a career, and poor career progress are among the challenges facing women across the medical and legal professions, new research shows.

A survey by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) found that almost half (46%) of female doctors delay having children because of the impact it could have on their career, compared to less than one in five males.

When it comes to choosing a speciality, one female doctor told the IMO she was “asked directly when I plan on having children... I was asked by the head why should he give me a job ahead of a man who wouldn’t be taking maternity leave at any stage on the training scheme”.

Women are more likely to mention work-life balance as a relevant consideration (33% versus 19%) when choosing a speciality. One respondent said: “Females feel they have to choose either family or career goals in specialties like surgery.” Just 15% of female doctors are surgeons.

Another said: “Women want to have families and the consultancies and the training especially for example for surgery are just physically impossible.”

The research also found a higher proportion of male doctors are encouraged to apply for a consultant post (84% versus 73%).

The findings were presented yesterday at the first Definitions of Success conference co-hosted by the Bar of Ireland and the IMO. The conference was established to explore issues for women in their careers.

Findings of a previous survey by the Bar of Ireland found women experience similar challenges in the legal professions including gender-based discrimination; “pigeonholing” in terms of areas of legal practice; challenges of work-life balance; and the low level of advancement to positions of seniority such as “taking silk” for barristers — just 16% of 329 senior counsel are women.

One respondent said that after returning from maternity leave she “returned to a decimated diary and almost no new cases… it has had an enduring adverse effect on my career”.

Both professions reported experiencing harassment and bullying. The IMO survey found more than one in five female junior doctors reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace during the last two years, compared to 12% of males. More than a quarter (28%) reported gender-based bullying compared to 6% of males.

IMO president Dr Ann Hogan said it is “obvious” that the female experience of gender-based bullying differs greatly from the male experience.

“This is an indictment for our profession and must be addressed,” she said.

The survey was conducted in late 2016 among more than 519 doctors.

Commenting ahead of the conference at Kings Inn, Marguerite Bolger SC said barristers “particularly struggle with the self-employed nature of our work when challenging institutionalised discrimination”.


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