‘Significant’ number of vascular surgery faculty suffer workplace sexual harassment

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Bernadette Aulivola

The Journal of Vascular Surgery August issue featured a paper whose findings established a significant number of faculty of vascular surgery training programs had experienced workplace sexual harassment after an anonymous survey.

“Gender disparity and sexual harassment in vascular surgery practices,” by Matthew R. Smeds, MD, division chief of vascular surgery at St. Louis University School of Medicine, and Bernadette Aulivola, MD, director of the division of vascular surgery and endovascular therapy at the Loyola University Health System in Chicago, led to the creation of the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force.

The researchers stepped into the space of sexual harassment as a set of unwelcome behaviors or obscene remarks—known, they point out, to be more pervasive in male-dominated workplaces—that creates intimidating or hostile environments.

The survey Smeds and Aulivola deployed was emailed to 52 training sites across the U.S, querying the type of gender bias and sexual harassment faculty members had experienced. They further sought to establish details such as characteristics of the perpetrators, locations as well as reporting mechanisms and any barriers to reporting.

Chief among the findings, Smeds and Aulivola found that of 149 respondents, 48 (32%) thought harassment occurred more commonly in surgical specialties with historical male dominance.

Sixty-one (41%) reported having experienced workplace harassment, with unwanted sexually explicit comments or questions and jokes, being called “a sexist slur or nickname, or being paid unwanted flirtation” the most common behaviors cited.

“Harassment was high in both men and women, although women had a higher likelihood of being harassed (67% of women respondents vs 34% of men respondents; p=0.001) and on average had experienced 2.6 (of 11) types of harassment,” they write.

The majority of harassment came from hospital staff, although women were more likely to receive harassment from other faculty, the investigators go on. Though 84% of respondents acknowledged institutional reporting mechanisms, only 7.2% of harassing behaviors were lodged.

Furthermore, 30% feared repercussions or felt uncomfortable identifying as a target of sexual harassment. Only 59% would feel comfortable discussing the harassment with departmental or divisional leadership.

“In examining workplace gender disparity, female surgeon responses differed significantly from male surgeon responses in regard to perceptions of gender differences,” the researchers add.

Female vascular surgeons believe gender influences hiring, promotion, compensation, and assumptions of life goals, they conclude. Further research is required in this area, the authors add.

SOURCE: DOI.ORG/10.1016/J. JVS.2019.10.071

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