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U of T researchers write in New England Journal of Medicine about men’s fear of mentoring in the #MeToo era

From left, Deborah Gillis, president and CEO of the CAMH Foundation, Sophie Soklaridis, an assistant professor at U of T and lead author, and Catherine Zahn, a U of T professor and CAMH president and CEO (photo courtesy of CAMH)

University of Toronto researchers have published a commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine arguing that men in academic medicine are using the #MeToo movement to justify avoiding mentorship of women, depriving the women of key opportunities to advance their careers.

The six authors state that there is a persistent gender gap in academic medical leadership roles. Gender parity for enrolment in U.S. and Canadian medical schools has existed for decades, yet women account for only 16 per cent of medical school deans and 15 per cent of department chairs.

“Why are we not seeing more representation of women in leadership positions?” says lead author Sophie Soklaridis, an assistant professor at U of T's Faculty of Medicine and a scientist with U of T’s Wilson Centre and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). “There has to be something going on that is making academic medicine a chilling climate for women.”

The authors argue that when women started to outnumber men in Canadian medical schools, some leaders in the field raised concerns about the “feminization of medicine,” even proposing that affirmative action initiatives for men might be required to close that gender gap in enrolment.

Of particular concern to the authors is a lack of mentoring opportunities for women in academic medicine relative to men, in part because men claim that they fear false allegations of sexual misconduct. The authors cite several recent studies showing that some American men have stopped meeting with female colleagues or subordinates alone due to fears of false sexual harassment reports.

The authors argue that mentorship is essential for career advancement in any field, including academic medicine. Nevertheless, women report less access to mentors than their male colleagues.

 “Having a mentor, someone who opens doors for you, makes all the difference in the world.  Without mentors, women do not have the opportunities that their male colleagues enjoy,” says author Catherine Zahn, a professor in the department of psychiatry and president and CEO of CAMH.

“Over and over again, I’ve seen women without strong mentorship choose a pathway different than that they may have preferred.”

The authors make several recommendations to facilitate the type of mentorship that would help address the gender gap in academic medicine leadership roles, including:

  • Establish mentorship and sponsorship programs
  • Offer leadership development programs and implicit bias training
  • Provide flexibility in structuring career paths for women, including promotion pathways and advancement criteria
  • Support universal access to family and medical leave policies
  • Create explicit, equitable and transparent departmental compensation arrangements

The commentary’s other co-authors are: Deborah Gillis, president and CEO, CAMH Foundation; Valerie Taylor, former associate professor of psychiatry at U of T and now department head of psychiatry, University of Calgary; Ayelet Kuper, associate professor at U of T, scientist and associate director of the Wilson Centre; and Cynthia Whitehead, associate professor at U of T, scientist and director of the Wilson Centre, and vice-president education, Women's College Hospital.