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Gender inequities in ENT: Insights from women speakers at American Head and Neck Society meetings.

Head & Neck 2024 March 29
BACKGROUND: Gender inequity exists across national speakers at American Head and Neck Society (AHNS) conferences. This qualitative study explores potential causes of this disparity by surveying women invited to speak at AHNS between 2007 and 2019 and examining advice, resources, and meaningful actions from "those who made it."

METHODS: An internet search for contact information for the 131 female AHNS was performed. An electronic survey was distributed via email. Deidentified qualitative responses were coded by two independent researchers into themes. Themes characterize barriers that female head and neck (HN) surgeons face and describe ways to mitigate the impact of these for the next generation.

RESULTS: Contact information for 73/131 female AHNS speakers was obtained via internet search. Email responses were received from 22/73 (30%). Of those, respondents specialized in otolaryngology (n = 17), medical oncology (n = 2), palliative care (n = 1), vascular surgery (n = 1), and thoracic surgical oncology (n = 1). All speakers worked in academic settings at varying stages of their career with 81.8% (18/22) of respondents fellowship-trained (primarily HN surgery). Concerns about gender disparity in ENT were grouped into the following themes: (1) recruiting women to ENT, (2) removing barriers to career advancement, (3) diversifying ENT's national presence, and (4) improving the broader culture of HN surgery. Respondents emphasized a need for diversifying leadership, early exposure to otolaryngology in medical school, and connecting students with female role models. Outstanding research, involvement at annual meetings, and committee membership were consistently deemed important for establishing a national presence in the field. Implicit bias, "boys clubs" culture, and burdensome childcare responsibilities were described as barriers to career advancement.

CONCLUSIONS: While encouraging more women to enter otolaryngology residencies, increasing the number female role models and establishing strong mentoring networks may help to mitigate challenges. Meaningful progress requires the efforts of both male and female allies within the specialty. Simple solutions, such as educating on implicit bias, removing demographics from applications, and eliminating hidden penalties for maternity leave, may help improve diversity and mitigate barriers to career progression for underrepresented groups within ENT.

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