The Tip of the Iceberg for Women in Academic Psychiatry

Young, professional women in academic psychiatry are facing down the iceberg: gender discrimination.

CONFERENCE REPORTER

“The issues discussed today are really just the tip of the iceberg for women in academic psychiatry. There are a multitude of them: salary differences, harassment, parental leave policies, microaggressions, lack of mentorship, and these are just some of the challenges that young, female faculty face,” Marcia Unger, MD, MPH, a child psychiatrist at the University of California, Davis, said during a presentation at the 2021 Virtual American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting.

In the presentation, “Triple Threat: Young, Female, Professional—the Experiences of Young Female Psychiatrists and Psychologists in Academic Medicine,” Unger and her colleagues shared some startling data: According to 2018-2019 data report, 17% of female faculty in academic psychiatry have experienced an instance of disrespect based on their gender, compared to only 1% of men.1

Furthermore, according to their research, women were more likely to experience: diminished responsibility, decreased patient and provider trust, inappropriate verbal exchanges, and be asked to perform nonmedical tasks.

The panel covered 2 additional challenges based in gender discrimination against women in academic psychiatry: Impostor syndrome and motherhood. 

Imposter syndrome, a psychological phenomenon wherein people doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as a “fraud,” has a higher severity in female faculty. A 2016 report recorded 50% of female students were affected by impostor syndrome, compared to only 25% of their male counterparts.2

“Men tend to own success, while women will state they were lucky,” said Anu Gupta, MD, a child psychiatrist at University of California, Davis.

A suggested solution for this issue lies in mentorship: female leaders or administrators overseeing and guiding younger women. Unfortunately, only 23% of psychiatry chairs are women, and only 6% of those chairs are Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Academic psychiatry further fails women when it comes to motherhood and parenting. Institutional failure to support work-life integration can be a significant barrier to career advancement, according to Meera Ullal, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the University of California, Davis. 

“What’s interesting about pregnancy is that it’s kind of nonvolitional. We don’t get to decide whether to keep this from our patients or not—they will find out,” said Ullal on the difficulties of navigating work while pregnant.

Ullal stressed the need to eradicate the notion of parental leave as “vacation” and the importance of comprehensive maternity leave, as well as childcare policies. Parenthood should not be seen as an abandonment of work.

The panel closed with a plea to abolish the following myth of females in the academic workforce: “We cannot rely on the surge of women entering psychiatry to lessen this gap.”

“This idea that women work part-time or women don’t want to work full-time because of family obligations is simply not true,” Unger said with a shake of her head.

References

1. Association of American Medical Colleges. 2018-2019 The state of women in academic medicine: Exploring pathways to equity. https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/data/2018-2019-state-women-academic-medicine-exploring-pathways-equity

2. Borlik MF, Godoy SM, Wadell PM, et al. Women in academic psychiatry: Inequities, barriers, and promising solutions. Acad Psychiatry. 2021;45(1):110-119.