More Evidence That Women Are Far Less Likely Than Men to Ask Questions in Academic Settings

A new study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, led by Lauren Hennein, now an ophthalmologist at the University of California, San Diego, finds that women attendees of virtual ophthalmology grand rounds sessions were significantly less likely than their male counterparts to ask questions. And the gender gap is large. On average women asked 1.2 questions per session compared to 3.2 questions by men. Men were three times as likely as women to ask the first question.

The study observed participants of 46 ophthalmology grand rounds sessions that took place from April 2020 through April 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated use of virtual grand rounds. Women accounted for 42 percent of the speakers, 55 percent of moderators, and 47 percent of attendees.

“This study demonstrates that differences persist even when academic meetings, such as GR [grand rounds], are held in a less formal online setting,” the authors note. “The findings in this study are consistent with others demonstrating that women in academia ask fewer questions than men, regardless of their representation in the audience and when adjusted for seniority of the question-asker.”

In an editorial accompanying the study, Julia A. Haller of the Wills Eye Hospital at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia wrote that “there is evidence that more women in leadership positions may help. Awareness of the issue and intentionality is also important. Offering women the floor will elevate our discussions, by equitably involving all worthy contributors. It must be rewarding, rather than risky, to speak while female.”

The full study, “Role of Sex in Participation During Virtual Grand Rounds in Ophthalmology,” was published in JAMA Ophthalmology. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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