The acknowledged under-representation of women as clinical trial subjects also extends to the UK’s clinical academic workforce, a new study has found.

A team from Imperial College London, the University of Bristol and the Medical Schools Council looked at the gender distribution of clinical academics – researchers who are also medical professionals – at all 32 medical schools in the UK during the years 2004 and 2005. They discovered that women made up just 21% of the overall clinical academic workforce.

The disparity was particularly marked at the most senior levels, with women accounting for only one in 10 medical clinical professors. In 2004-05 only six female professors were appointed while 207 men took up the position. At the beginning of the study period, six medical schools were employing no female professors at all.

There were also wide variations between different medical schools. In 2004, for example, the University of Oxford employed 28 medical professors and the University of Southampton 25; none of these were women. By contrast, King’s College London and Queen Mary’s College had higher than average proportions of female professors, with 15 out of 92 (16%) and nine out of 48 (19%) respectively.

Call for more active recruitment

The under-representation of women in clinical academia was despite the fact that more were entering the medical profession than men, so that women now made up over 60% of the medical student body, the study authors noted. The findings implied that some workforce practices were detrimental to women’s clinical academic careers, they suggested, calling on the sector to more actively recruit and retain senior academic medical women and to improve its record on gender equality.

“In industry we know that diversity in staffing at senior levels is a key element in their success and so for medical schools to maximise their competitiveness in the 21st century they need to reflect the population they serve,” commented one of the authors, Dr Anita Holdcroft from the Division of Surgery, Oncology, Reproductive Biology and Anaesthetics at Imperial College London.

The study, ‘Women in the UK academic medicine workforce’, was published in the September issue of the Journal of Medical Education.