The #MeToo movement may be producing a “chilling effect” that could cause women to miss out on crucial mentorship opportunities in academic medicine, according to a group of women who hold leadership positions in Canada’s health education system.
The doctors, many of whom are affiliated with Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, expressed their concern in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week.
In that article, they note survey data showing that many men fear being falsely accused of sexual harassment and misconduct, and as such avoid situations where they might be at risk of that. This could harm women’s careers, as they get fewer opportunities for mentorship.
“It’s really a concern on the part of some men that perhaps they don’t want to be alone in a room with a woman or giving her advice or being seen to be in situations where they might be thought of as engaging in behaviours that are inappropriate,” said article co-author Deborah Gillis, president and CEO of the CAMH Foundation.
Career mentorship is “critical” to anyone entering the field of academic medicine or any other career, said Gillis. Mentors provide support and guidance and can also champion junior workers so that they get future opportunities to advance in their careers.
“What we really want to emphasize is that career progression really depends on these kinds of very important mentoring and sponsoring relationships.”
Women already aren’t getting enough opportunities for advancement, she said. Women account for only 16 per cent of medical school deans and 15 per cent of department chairs in Canada and the U.S. — despite the fact that slightly more females than males are enrolled in medical schools.
“What that says is that women already are not getting the kinds of mentorship and sponsorship that they need to advance in their careers and our fear is that this current climate will continue to hold women back from advancing by making that situation even more challenging.”
Gillis fears that men in leadership positions may use the #MeToo movement as an excuse to avoid mentoring women.
“It’s an excuse for not doing the right thing.”
“And the right thing is clearly taking your responsibility as a leader and developing diverse talent whether it’s based on gender, or race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, that’s a responsibility of leaders and is not something that leaders should be able to walk away from.”
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Gillis suggests that male leaders consult with women in their departments to determine the best ways to give and receive advice and approaches that work or don’t with their mentees.
Organizations should want the best and brightest people in leadership positions, she said, and given that half of medical graduates are women, “You can’t be successful if you don’t have women.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press