The gender pay gap is a hotly debated topic, one that extends to medicine. On average, male physicians make 18 percent more than female physicians. Although certain statistics are frequently used to explain this gap, they are often miscited. Here are some examples:
- Female physicians do not make as much because they gravitate toward lower-paying specialties. Research says this is true, but this does not explain why there are vast pay disparities within those lower-paying specialties.
- Female physicians do not spend as much time with their patients. Female physicians spend three fewer hours per week seeing patients than men. However, research shows that although female physicians do not see as many patients, they spend more time with the patients they do see.
- Female physicians are more likely to opt for part-time positions. Evidence shows this is true, but this is because female physicians suffer burnout at a higher rate than their male counterparts, in part due to patient demand. Therefore, female physicians are more likely to take part-time positions.
With this in mind, what can women’s health providers do to help close the wage gap in their specialty?
Increase Female Leadership
Female physicians constitute the majority of existing OB-GYNs, yet comprise only 28 percent of department-based leadership roles. Even with this disappointing statistic, obstetrics and gynecology remains one of the most popular specialties for advancement. Providers can increase female leadership with structural changes and diversifying hiring practices. Another way is to be aware of and reduce any bias or barriers to leadership. Research shows that male physicians are more likely than female physicians to receive positive reviews during leadership development training, to be invited to speaking events, and be referred to by their official titles.
Providers can change this dynamic by being aware of unconscious bias and actively supporting female leadership potential and development within their practice. Organizations can implement an active company strategy to hire more female leadership and add meaningful diversity training so providers learn to be aware of how bias can play a role in the hiring process.
Changing Workplace Culture
Female physicians and specialists are held to high expectations in the office, both explicit and implicit. They are less likely to negotiate salaries than their male counterparts for fear of seeming overly aggressive.
Research also shows that while patients may not have a significant preference about their physician’s gender, they do have gendered expectations about their providers’ communication style. These expectations can be unfair to female physicians. For example, patients gave female providers poor reviews if they did not exhibit a caring communication style whereas they did not do so for male providers in similar circumstances.
Moreover, male and female physicians differ in the amount of time they spend with patients. Male physicians are more likely to have quicker visits while female physicians spend more time having conversations with their patients. Female physicians and specialists draw a large part of their job satisfaction from these types of interactions.
One way to address this particular issue is for physicians to revisit their workplace culture to allow more time for visiting with patients. Not only will this help with the gender pay gap, but it may also help reduce physician burnout as well.
There is good news, however; the physician wage gap decreased from 36 to 33 percent in 2018. While this suggests we’re heading in the right direction, we still have a ways to go. However, you cannot change what you cannot see. Therefore, the first step toward making positive change is to look within your practice for opportunities for improvement and start there.