Breaking the Glass Ceiling: A Call to Action for Shrinking the Gastroenterology Gender Gap

Black female doctor speaking to a Black male patient
While the causes of gender gaps are often complex and inextricably intertwined, a more in depth approach is needed to identify areas where immediate action can be taken to improve gender equity and diversity in gastroenterology.

Women remain an underrepresented demographic in roles that serve as indicators of achievement and impact in the field of gastroenterology, according to an article published in Gastroenterology. The American Gastroenterological Association, among other societies, have committed to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs to promote increased representation in the field.

A 2015 survey revealed that 88% of women physicians felt it was important to be in positions of leadership, and 50% of those participants reported this as a personal goal; however, most leadership positions in gastroenterology currently belong to men. Moreover, men who are specialists earn 31% more than their women peers.

In the article by Chua et al, authors outline a multifaceted approach to achieving gender equity and presenting more opportunities for women in gastroenterology. It remains that causes of gender gaps overall are often complex and inextricably intertwined; however, the authors approach gender equity from a micro- to macroscopic level to identify areas where immediate action can be taken to improve gender equity.

Gastroenterology fellows are encouraged to reflect on their academic strengths and weaknesses, and develop individualized goals to acquire skills that can be used later on in their career. Seeking mentorship, and consistently meeting with mentors and faculty members are listed as actions that can assist in monitoring their overall progress. Individuals should ensure that there is alignment in clinical and research interests between mentor and mentee. The authors also advised that if senior stage faculty in gastroenterology are unavailable, women career mentors should be sought in other disciplines.

Beyond mentorship, being proactive in opportunity seeking can also serve as a means of cultivating leadership, research, and management skills. Academic institutions and training programs should invest in the development of seminars and other educational resources that present on a plethora of topics, spanning from manuscript appraisals and the business aspect of gastroenterology, to personal resources, such as practicing resiliency in medicine. On a national level, senior-stage gastroenterologists can enlist in formal mentorship training, and go on to participate as instructors in programs that prioritize women and other traditionally underrepresented populations in medicine.

The authors suggest that identifying role models and sponsors, as well as developing strong, multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary networks among women gastroenterologists who are experienced in career advancement and work life balance, is a key component of success for women in the field. The creation of multidisciplinary research teams can assist in the development of those networks, especially if they include gastroenterologists in the early stages of their careers. Moreover, professional databases that span national and international scales may be useful for gastroenterologists seeking to network with other practitioners that have similar clinical and research interests.

Historically, women are less likely to verbalize their interest in sponsorships and leadership roles. The authors mention that this may be a result of role congruity, which can cause a woman’s ambition to be viewed negatively. The creation of organized networking events that prioritize women may heighten their participation at various career stages. Further, women often take on the majority of responsibility for childcare, and forgo academic progression at crucial times when impactful publications are produced. Institutions should take work-life balance into consideration when offering career planning and policy creation, so that non-academic obligations do not prevent the promotion of women who align with this experience. Resources and considerations such as these make certain that talented women are championed and retained at institutions.

Professional societies are encouraged to ensure that the representation of women in leadership positions is reflected in the gender distribution throughout the field. Furthermore, transparent compensation models can be established with clearly outlined benchmarks to address salary inequity. The authors also mention that public and private grant funding agencies should work to identify and eliminate potential biases in the application and proposal selection process.

Ultimately, Chua and colleagues note that there is a shared responsibility for all to acknowledge gender disparities, advocate against them, and to create and maintain a safe and inclusive environment for women in medicine. Wellness, career satisfaction, and productivity must be considered simultaneously. The implementation of feasible leave policies, flexible training pathways that accommodate leave for sick children or elderly dependents, zero tolerance policies for discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying, as well as transparent compensation models that address the gender pay gap are meaningful steps towards achieving gender equity and supporting women across all fields of medicine.

“Eliminating gender bias, developing policies that incorporate work-life balance, and sponsoring women in leadership and research are only the beginning. Through collaboration, we can create a culture that empowers women and promotes gender equality for the benefit of not only our current and future colleagues, but our patients and society as a whole,” the authors concluded.


Chua SG, Wasan SK, Long MT. How to promote career advancement and gender equity for women in gastroenterology: a multifaceted approach. Gastroenterol. Published online June 24, 2021. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2021.06.057