Female physicians report high rate of workplace discrimination

Physicians in Tennessee who are also mothers are likely to experience a high rate of discrimination at work connected to being a parent according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Almost 80 percent of 6,000 respondents to a survey reported some form of discrimination. In about two-thirds of the cases, the reported discrimination was gender-based and in about one-third, it was maternity-based. The survey defined maternal discrimination as relating to breast-feeding, maternity leave or pregnancy.

About half of the respondents reported discrimination related to breast feeding while nearly all reported discrimination based on pregnancy or maternity leave. In addition, almost 50 percent of doctors reporting maternal discrimination also said they suffered from burnout. In general, discrimination took the form of being treated disrespectfully by staff. Female physicians also reported being excluded from decision-making processes and getting less pay and fewer benefits than male physicians.

Around one-third of doctors are female, and a shortage of physicians is expected in the years ahead. According to researchers, employers could put a number of policies in place that could increase the recruitment and retention of female doctors and reduce discrimination. These steps include more schedule flexibility, more paid maternity leave, support for breastfeeding and child care options.

There may be a number of reasons that people do not report discrimination in the workplace. For example, some women doctors might feel it will hurt their careers if they complain about discrimination. However, there are protections in place for people who feel they are suffering workplace discrimination. People may want to try to resolve the issue within workplace channels, but they might still want to speak to an attorney about their rights. They might also consider documenting instances of discrimination so a pattern can be demonstrated.

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