The pandemic is widening the gender gap in science. What a year ago was a mere suspicion of the effects of the coronavirus crisis is being confirmed with statistics and data.
Now an international team from the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) has released the results of a survey that reflects how cancer researchers have been more affected by the coronavirus crisis than their peers: they have had less time for scientific tasks, such as preparing documentation for scholarships or send publications; and her personal life has been further altered, giving more time to household and family tasks but taking minutes away from self-care.
ESMO’s survey indicates that the 62.5% of women considers that covid-19 has had a impact in their professional life – compared to 45.5% of men. Of these, 85% perceive that this alteration has been negative —76% for men. The global respondents responded that the pandemic has affected their personal life (89% women vs. 76% men) and family (84% vs. 77%).
62.5% of the oncologists who responded to the survey consider that covid-19 has had an impact on their professional life. Of these, 85% consider that it has gotten worse
During the months of confinement, the oncologists dedicated more time to hospital tasks (patient care) and laboratory (interpretation of results and clinical research) than their peers —53% versus 46% and 33% versus 26%, respectively— . On the other hand, they decreased in a significant proportion the time dedicated to scientific research —39% vs. 25% – and personal self-care —58% vs. 39% -. The authors highlight that these trends were maintained beyond confinement in the case of time spent doing science —42% versus 23% – and in personal care —55% vs. 36% -.
Consequences beyond the pandemic
To understand what these results imply, the work context of cancer research and treatment professionals must be explained. Pilar Garrido, from the Ramón y Cajal Hospital Medical Oncology Service and spokesperson for Women for Oncology, an ESMO committee that investigates with a gender perspective and seeks to end this inequality in the sector, details to SINC that oncologists, “like all doctors ”, Prioritize patient care. Afterwards, they dedicate a significant part of their day to research, whether clinical or translational, and then have an academic ‘leg’ of teaching at the university.
For this reason, he is concerned that male oncologists “have devoted additional time – compared to women – to maintain a research quota, while they have directed it to tasks that socially it is assigned to them: child and family care ”.
The authors warn that this disparity in the professional dedication of men and women “may have lasting consequences in the career of oncologists, beyond the pandemic ”, which can have an impact on the resumes of professionals and their aspirations for leadership positions.
I am concerned that men have dedicated additional time to maintain a research quota while women have directed it to tasks that are socially assigned to them: child and family care
Pilar Garrido, spokesperson for Women for Oncology
Garrido, who is the main author of the survey, warns that if nothing is done, oncologists “will be at a disadvantage compared to men.” There are fewer women in reference publications, fewer women as first and last authors, and fewer women as principal investigators of trials ”.
“Personally, it amazes me that after the effort of so many years and generations, it is so easily assumed that in a crisis there are mainly women’s tasks. If we are just as professional, why aren’t the rest of the tasks the same? ”, He reflects.
The findings of this research are supported by other studies that reflect the low representation of women in research during the pandemic. A systematic search of the PubMed medical database reveals that there were only 34% of authors among the 1,370 publications related to covid-19 as of May 1, 2020, of which only 29% were first and last authorship and 26% of the articles, respectively.
A 2018 Women for Oncology perception survey found that the majority of men did not consider that there were gender differences in oncology
On the other hand, an analysis of the female authorship of the articles on covid-19 published in The Lancet shows that they appeared much less (in 30.8% of the articles analyzed) and as first signatories (24.2%), latest signatories (25.8%) and corresponding authors (22.9%).
A perception survey conducted by Women for Oncology in 2018 found that the majority of professional women did affirm that they existed gender differences in the world of oncology, but mens they were of the opposite opinion.
For Garrido, “it is very difficult to solve something that one party believes does not exist”, despite the fact that the data show an important gender gap in medical oncology.
The survey, conducted between June and July 2020, collected the responses of 649 people out of 11,956 ESMO members. Of these, more than two-thirds of the participants were women, “which could have introduced some kind of bias in the results,” the authors admit.
The large percentage of female responses may reflect the counter to the impact of the pandemic: those most affected may have felt more motivated to complete the questionnaire
However, they allege that “the large percentage of female responses may reflect the contrast of the impact experienced by the pandemic: those who have been most affected may have felt more motivated to complete the questionnaire.”
Other limitations cited by the study is that some demographic profiles had very low responses (such as single-mother families, people who live alone), so they have not been able to extract results from these groups. Finally, they point out that future research in this field should include a more significant proportion of male oncologists.
Garrido, P. et al. “Has covid-19 had a greater impact on female than male oncologists? Results of the ESMO Women for Oncology (W4O) Survey ”. ESMO Open (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.esmoop.2021.100131
Rights: Creative Commons.