Women in the Health Sciences Face Significant Barriers and the Pandemic Made Things Worse

A new study by researchers at Florida International University in Miami finds that early-career women researchers in the health sciences face significant barriers to success. They found that women face unequal distribution of familial responsibilities that compete with career advancement, have to deal with family members’ lack of understanding of the demands of a research career, have a lack of female mentors, and have to overcome perceived differences in the roles and expectations of female and male faculty at institutions.

Lead author Sofia Fernandez, a postdoctoral associate in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work at Florida International University, further states that the COVID-19 pandemic will make it even tougher for women researchers in the field. “COVID-19 has exacerbated some of the existing disparities in terms of career and leadership advancement,” Dr. Fernandez says.

One example of how the pandemic has hampered women involved in the sciences: fewer female researchers have published papers recently when compared to their male counterparts. While publications were up across the board for all researchers during the health crisis, women have not seen as steep a rise as men — something Dr. Fernandez says could hurt the former when they come up for evaluation. “Journal publications are one of the most important ways that people are evaluated for tenure and promotion,” she says. “If a woman is going to be compared to a male counterpart at this time, they’re not going to be viewed as favorably and they’re not going to get the same promotion as someone else — if we don’t consider the context of what’s happening.”

To even out the playing field, the authors suggest that organizations create support systems for women with female mentors and that universities enforce consistent policies regarding the roles and expectations of faculty. Women’s duties within families may also need some shifting and will need to be considered at work if professional women are to get ahead, the authors explain.

Dr. Fernandez holds a bachelor’s degree and a master of social work degree from Florida State University. She earned a Ph.D. in social welfare from Florida International University.

The full study, “Perceptual Facilitators for and Barriers to Career Progression: A Qualitative Study With Female Early Stage Investigators in Health Sciences,” was published on the website of the journal Academic Medicine. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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