Gender Inequality in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine

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Disproportionate familial duties, few women in positions of leadership, a low retention rate of women, and unequal compensation contribute to gender inequality in the fields of pulmonary medicine, critical care, and sleep medicine.

There is overwhelming evidence of gender inequality in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, according to an article published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. Among factors that exacerbate gender inequality are disproportionate familial duties, few women in positions of leadership, a low retention rate of women, unequal compensation, and poor gender climate.

A group of leaders in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine convened for a workshop on the state of gender inequality in their field. Recommendations for achieving gender equality included interventions addressed to the professional society, organizational leaders, and individuals. These interventions included a standard administered survey, policies establishing a zero-tolerance policy for workplace sexual harassment, and a proportional representation of men and women in panels, committees, leadership roles, awards, and at speaking events.

Additionally, the interventions included training via both the dissemination of best practices and mandatory classes on implicit bias, the availability of groups whose purpose is to discuss issues specific to women, advocacy in the form of workshops dedicated to gender equality, and support and networking, wherein women can receive mentorship from other women.

To address the issue of disproportionate familial duties, the leaders recommended advocating for childcare services, creating a designated space for breastfeeding, and implementing maternity leave policies. To address the lack of women in leadership roles, women should receive leadership training, advocate for inclusion in leadership roles, and have networking made available to them. The poor levels of retention of senior women should be addressed through representation in awards nominations and committees, recognition in the form of accomplishment highlighting and tenure track extensions, financial support, and structural support. The inequality in compensation should be addressed by structural support, advocacy, and training, which includes improving the ability of women to negotiate a fair salary.

The leaders concluded that “In order to establish gender equality, the individual, the organization and its leadership, and medical specialty societies need to take an active role in removing barriers to that equality and building structures to promote equity. As [pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine] Division Chiefs and Departmental Chairs from across the country, we have outlined a roadmap of concrete recommendations at each level to achieve gender equality in academic [pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine]. We believe that this is a worthy, necessary, and achievable goal, and one that will need to be re-assessed with periodic future workshops addressing this issue.”

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Disclosures: Several of the authors declare conflicts of interest, including consultation with pharmaceutical companies. For a full list of author disclosures, visit the reference.


Thomson CC, Riekert KA, Bates CK, et al. Addressing gender inequality in our disciplines: report from the association of pulmonary, critical care and sleep division chiefs [published online August 28, 2018]. Ann Am Thorac Soc. doi:10.1513/AnnalsATS.201804-252AR