“Although the rates of women in medicine and ophthalmology are increasing, a gender gap still exists in senior positions, such as senior faculty, chairs of academic programs, and deans of medical schools,” explains Jamie B. Rosenberg, MD. As presenting at national conferences could be a factor in eligibility for senior positions, Dr. Rosenberg and colleagues questioned whether female under-representation at these conferences could be contributing to the gender gap in senior positions. For a study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, Dr. Rosenberg and colleagues evaluated the portion of female presenters at ophthalmology conferences in recent years.

The researchers analyzed the lists of presenters at nine national ophthalmology conferences from 2015 to 2017, including both national ophthalmology conferences and annual meetings of ophthalmology subspecialties and covering more than 14,000 total presenters. The rates of female presenters of papers (podium presentations of original work) and non-papers (moderators, named lecturers, presenters of symposiums, panel discussions, workshops/ instructional courses, and video programs) was compared with that of female board-certified ophthalmologists; subspecialty speaker rates were compared with those of female ophthalmologists in that subspecialty.

Females represented 30.5% of speakers at the conferences, which was higher than Dr. Rosenberg and colleagues expected, based on 25.4% of board-certified ophthalmologists being female. Female paper presenters represented 33.1%, while non-paper presenters were 28.5% female. “Although the portion of women in both categories was higher than predicted, there still is a gender gap, particularly at subspecialty conferences, and especially in the non-paper category,” notes Dr. Rosenberg. “Dr. Rosenberg hypothesizes that the lower representation in the non-paper category could be because this is typically an invited role, which may be subject to biases of the inviter, perceived expertise of the speaker, and the tendency to invite prior speakers.”

“As the rates of women currently in residency and who have recently finished their training are higher than the board-certified rate of women, we should see increases over the next few years in the number of female presenters,” explains Dr. Rosenberg. “We should continue to watch these trends to make sure that is the case. In addition, conference organizers should institute policies to ensure balance in meeting programs, particularly for invited speakers.”