Gender diversity - why it matters! | AMA (WA)


Gender diversity – why it matters!

Wednesday June 12, 2019

Dr Rebecca Wood, Co-Chair, AMA (WA) Doctors in Training Committee

Gender diversity in leadership is being recognised as an important issue in our profession.

And while some training colleges and the AMA are making moves towards more inclusive and representative leadership models, there are colleagues who question the issue – ‘why can’t we keep going the way we always have?’

Last month the AMA passed a resolution to have gender targets – for Federal Council, elected positions and boards.

The targets are for 40 per cent female and 40 per cent male representation with a flex of 20 per cent.

I was thrilled to hear the news about gender targets – it’s not the magic-pill solution, and won’t mandate 40 per cent women immediately as a quota would but it is a step in the right direction.

While discussing the significance of this decision with a colleague the question was raised as to why it was so important. Why should it matter?

It should matter because the leaders and decision-makers in our hospitals, in our colleges and in our professional organisations need to be representative of the workforce and membership of those organisations to empower everyone, not just those with the correct gonads.

It’s an important step towards creating a culture that supports doctors in the profession and in the workplace.

The very first step towards creating this balance is data.

The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) recently published gender statistics about its consultants, trainees, council members, board members and presenters at its Annual Scientific Meeting, ASM 2019.

Forty three per cent of ANZCA trainees are female, 24 per cent of Heads of Department are female and female supervisors of training represent 48 per cent (increased from 39 per cent in 2017). The data is collected and analysed by the ANZCA Gender Equity Working Group – a group that is led by women.


There is an argument that putting more women in positions of leadership makes no difference – the ‘Queen Bee’ fallacy – that women in masculine organisational cultures who are in positions of power dissociate themselves from their gender and hold other women down or ‘pull up the ladder behind them’.

The idea that simply placing women into leadership positions creates this gender disassociation and stereotyping is not supported by evidence.

Rather, it is the consequence of having experienced significant gender discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace and stereotyping during their rise, which makes women leaders less likely to support other women rising through the ranks.

Research by Dutch academics Ellemers and Derks has found that it is when women experienced these gender-based hardships to the extent that they depersonalise themselves from their gender that they are then more likely to actively disassociate from other women in the workplace or pull up the ladder behind them.

They found that this behaviour was akin to a survival response.

Twenty Nineteen is a year of firsts for the AMA (WA) – the first year operating under the new constitution and the first in some time to have an election.

As for gender targets, they will be put to our new Council post-election to consider adopting them for our WA chapter – but we’ll most likely reach the targets this year without them being set.

The Federal Council targets are a powerful precedent to set as an organisation. I hope there will be flow-on effects to the colleges and hospitals, measuring everyone by the same yardstick.

The profession is watching our actions now.

We may not have gender parity yet, nor for some time.

As a female representative of the AMA (WA) Doctors in Training Committee, I have had a chance to make a difference – to bring a different perspective and to discuss my experience. I have not always been perfect, nor had all the answers, or been able to represent every woman.

I ask that we, the women who step forward into leadership roles are judged equal to the men in these same roles. And I know that this may not happen for some time, if ever.

We will know it when the day comes – the day that women in leadership can make the same mistakes as men and be forgiven, when they have the same wins as men and are equally celebrated. Then we will know we are equal.