Awareness, acknowledgment, action

OUWB event draws attention to glass ceiling, and how to overcome

An image of shattering glass


icon of a calendarOct. 7, 2022

icon of a pencilBy John McTaggart

Share this story

The OUWB Center for Excellence in Medical Education recently hosted Lori LaCivita, Ph.D., for a webinar entitled “The Glass Ceiling; Broken, Shattered or Merely Dented?”

LaCivita, a noted psychologist with a focus on organizational psychology, led the Sept. 13 conversation that included nearly three dozen participants.

The event was part of the OUWB Center for Excellence in Medical Education (CEME) series held in conjunction with Women in Medicine Month.

The purpose was to clearly define the notion of a glass ceiling, and help attendees better understand that there’s work that needs to be done to overcome the related barriers.

An image of Lori LaCivita

“First we have to ask ourselves — what is (the glass ceiling)?,” asked LaCivita. “We hear about it, and it’s a term that we know about, but what really is that invisible ceiling?”

LaCivita explained that the ceiling is a barrier that makes it very difficult for women and minorities to rise in the ranks and be promoted or hired into top-level positions.

“Do we think this is still occurring?” LaCivita said. “The glass ceiling is really difficult to see, because it’s really an informal barrier that’s used to keep women from getting promotions, pay raises and other opportunities. It’s an invisible barrier, and women may not even be aware of its existence until you actually hit it.”

Policies, practices and attitudes are in place, she explained, that produce and perpetuate this barrier.

According to LaCivita, the barriers may have diminished in some areas slightly, but in others, they may have escalated.

“Particularly in medicine, there’s a long career path for women,” she said. “Women have entered the field in equal numbers to men for 20 years, but along the way, many women fail to advance and earn the same recognition, the same salaries, as their male counterparts.”

The differences are often framed as individual failures, LaCivita said, despite strong evidence of gender discrimination against individuals in a myriad of communities including women in general, any type of minority, the LGBTQIA community, and others.

“There are various classes or categories that have experienced the glass ceiling,” she explained. “It’s not really an individual failure. I think, though, that women really take it to heart, thinking they’re just not working hard enough, or their focus is not on the job as much as it should be. The medical profession really has to confront these issues, because this is just sexism.”

LaCivita said women are often told to be better negotiators in private, or told not to have children in order to succeed.

These attitudes lead to eye-opening statistics concerning women in medicine.
Women have nearly double the rate of burnout as their male counterparts in the profession, and the rate of suicide in medicine amongst women in the U.S. is up to 4 times higher than the rate of the general population.

Along with these statistics, both male and female managers are twice as likely to hire a man over a woman.

Only 15% of department heads are women, and only 16% of medical school deans are female. Women made up only one-quarter of first authors on medical journal articles between 2002 and 2021.

“As a culture and a profession, medicine continues to systematically disadvantage women physicians at every stage of their careers,” LaCivita said. “This causes many to leave the profession. As a result, we’re losing some of our most talented doctors and other types of medical staff.”

There are keys, however, according to LaCivita, in order to help break through this invisible ceiling.

“How do we deal with this? Is it just something that’s inevitable? Do we just have to deal with it and accept it?” she said.

“That’s not the case. We’ve found that awareness, acknowledgment and action are the three key things that need to take place in order to overcome this glass ceiling.”

Overall, LaCivita said it’s a situation that continues to need addressing.

“Women have made great strides toward educational and workplace equity, and while they make up 40.2% of the workforce, they only make up 25% of executive officers, 9.5% of top earners and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs,” she said.

“There are so many micro inequities and they all add up to gender disparities,” said LaCivita. “There’s a lot of work left to be done.”

Share this story