Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Gender Gap

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on May 25, 2012

Psychiatry, particularly child psychiatry, is a female-dominated profession. Although I don’t have statistics handy, over the last twenty years, more than 50% of the trainees have been women. In this year’s fellowship program at UCLA there are six women and one man. In the incoming class at UCLA the gender distribution is the same. Yet, when I go to administrative meetings of the voluntary clinical faculty, I am the only female in the room, besides the administrative assistant. “The women have kids,” the chair of the committee says glibly, as if that explains why the women do not attend. I have a different take. Men feel more of a fellowship at these leadership meetings, whereas women might feel them to be cold and empty, especially when compared to chatting with a girlfriend, or hanging out with a dear family member. It seems to me that as men and women have different brains, they have different signals of pleasure. Going up a professional ladder might be more inherently rewarding for most men, but not for most women. Of course, there are outliers, but I am speaking about the folks under the large part of the bell curve. Regardless, I am lonely at these meetings because I feel like an outlier. Any time one’s brain does not match one’s peers, isolation ensues. The gender gap is yet one more example of the importance of neurobiology. That is what makes sense to me.

2 Responses to “Gender Gap”

  1. Shelly said

    How about psychiatry is more dominated by females because it is more of a caring speciality than some of the other ones than say, surgery, internal medicine, or dermatology? Don’t you always talk about your patients’ transference to you and their seeing you as a “mother figure?” However, going up the professional leadership ladder is always male dominated because men always get promoted, males are always seen as the go-getters whereas females are seen as the keepers of home and hearth. “Family first,” as the chair of the committee glibly said to you…(perhaps paraphrased). Of course you feel lonely at these meetings because you are, of course, an outlier. You’re breaking the mold, Shir.

    • Hi Shelly,
      Psychiatry used to be a more nurturing profession, I think and fear. It seems like with the model of “med management” some of the nurturing has diminished. Of course, I hope this is not true. The male ladder, as you say, is always complicated by the issue of whether women try to climb the ladder or if they opt out for personal reasons. This dilemma is in constant debate. Maybe more women see the wisdom of avoiding management teams since one can become very frustrated and unfulfilled. On the other hand, maybe women feel unwelcome, so they do not try to participate. Thanks, as always, for your comments.

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