• Female gynecologic oncologists reported negative experiences regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, practice setting, or the gender of their leadership.
    • 83% of the study’s respondents reported having experienced gender-based microaggressions, such as being told to smile more or to act more feminine and maternal.
    • Study found that leadership gender did not significantly change the environment of bullying, discrimination, and microaggressions

08 April 2022 | By Lisa Aubry, from the Loma Linda University Health website:

A study published April 6, 2022, provides a clear picture of hardships women in gynecologic oncology face: bullying, gender discrimination, and gender-based microaggressions. Findings showed that female gynecologic oncologists reported negative experiences regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, practice setting, or the gender of their leadership.


Linda Hong, MD, lead author of the paper that appeared in Frontiers in Oncology, and a gynecologic oncologist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center, said women gynecologic oncologists in the U.S. continue to experience bullying, discrimination, and microaggressions at “unacceptable” levels — even though women make up over half of physicians in the field.

“The inclusion of women into our specialty has not changed the culture,” Hong said. “The problems this study pinpointed call for a change in the structure of medicine to better support gynecologic oncologists in navigating and hopefully putting an end to these situations.”

To gauge gynecologic oncologists’ experiences, Hong conducted an internet-based survey of members of a Facebook group, “Women of Gynecologic Oncology (WGO).” Two hundred and fifty active WGO members participated by answering questions about their demographics, practice infrastructure, personal experience with workplace bullying, gender discrimination, microaggressions, and outcomes.

Researchers classified the following definitions for bullying, discrimination, and microaggressions in these ways:

  • Bullying is the use of negative and aggressive interpersonal behaviors to intimidate and dominate others. Examples include humiliation, insults, threats, coercion, isolation, and overwork—sometimes involving repetitive or meaningless tasks. Bullying behaviors are often persistent, repeated, and arise in contexts of power imbalance.
  • Discrimination entails negatively charged, differential treatment based on one’s characteristics or attributes, including, but not limited to, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, disability, or age.
  • Microaggressions are everyday verbal, behavioral, or environmental slights that communicate negative attitudes toward marginalized groups, whether intentional or unintentional.

Responses reflected the high prevalence of all three categories: about 53% of respondents reported being bullied, 57% reported having been subjected to gender discrimination, and 83% of respondents reported having experienced gender-based microaggressions, such as being told to smile more or to act more feminine and maternal.

Women who completed the survey also delineated the varied perpetrators of the bullying, discrimination, or microaggressions they’d experienced. Perpetrators could be male or female and included colleagues (84%), patients (44%), staff (41%), administrators (18%), and trainees (16%). Almost half of those bullied reported men to be the perpetrators, while a third said both women and men had bullied them, and the rest pinpointed women to be the perpetrators.

These negative experiences take their toll by creating discomfort and hostility in the workplace and even hindering women’s careers, Hong said. Most women said they have hidden their personal lives or changed their personalities to adapt to their work environment. Some changed jobs due to bullying or discrimination, and over a third of the respondents reported being excluded from leadership because of their gender.

Placing women in leadership positions arises as a popular suggestion to help remedy the negative experiences women in professional fields face, Hong said. And yet, she said this study found that leadership gender did not significantly change the environment of bullying, discrimination, and microaggressions where women gynecologic oncologists worked.

The most impactful way to stop these negative experiences from repeating themselves, Hong said, is through implementing systemic change first.

“We need a systems change before a change in leaders,” Hong said. “If leaders are swapped out but placed in the same system as before, that probably won’t achieve the big changes that are needed.”

Study authors call on mentors and educators to actively help women navigate unprofessional behavior, gender bias, and exclusion at work. In a recent presentation for the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s gender equity task force, Hong spoke of the value of being an “upstander” — someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being bullied or attacked — as opposed to a complacent “bystander.”

The study included some limitations that Hong said further research should aim to resolve. Survey studies have selection bias, so people who chose to complete the survey may have been more likely to identify with the experiences being assessed in the survey. Additionally, most respondents were younger than 50 years old, married, white and had children. Hong said the demographics do not reflect the diversity of all women gynecological oncologists.

This article was edited by AT staff.


(Photo: A new study by Loma Linda University Health found that women gynecologic oncologists in the U.S. continue to experience bullying, discrimination, and microaggressions at “unacceptable” levels — even though women make up over half of physicians in the field. Photo courtesy of LLUH.)

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