Addressing Gender Inequality in Psychiatry

Addresing the gender gap
Addresing the gender gap
APA past-president Carol A. Bernstein discusses how both male and female psychiatrists can help progress gender equality in psychiatry.

TORONTO — More strides need to be taken to address the gender gap in psychiatry, according to Carol A. Bernstein, MD, the American Psychiatric Foundation’s 2015 Alexandra Symonds Award recipient, at a lecture presented at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting.

“While gains have occurred, they are modest,” said Bernstein. The current physician workforce is still dominated by white male physicians over the age of 42, despite the fact that nearly 50% of new medical graduates are females. “The issues that persist are more difficult to address.”

Bernstein is an associate professor of psychiatry and vice chair for education and director of residency training in psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. She is also a past president of the American Psychiatry Association.

Gender inequality is not specific to psychiatry, noted Bernstein. Across all medical specialties, men make more than women. “There are pay discrepancies, even at hiring,” noted Bernstein. Research findings suggest that many women are more comfortable negotiating for someone else — in the form of advocacy — than they are negotiating on their own behalf, which may account for some of the pay gap.

This behavior is critical to understanding gender inequality in psychiatry, whether it be within a department at an academic institution, in private practice, or even among leadership organizations. Women need to speak up and be more comfortable touting their own successes like their male counterparts. “It’s much easier for me to advocate for my staff than it is for me,” admitted Bernstein.

Although no studies have directly investigated the impact of stereotype threat among female medical school faculty, research findings published in Academic Medicine indicate that more descriptors associated with agentic male behaviors — aggressive, ambitious, and competitive — were found in tenure criteria compared with communal female behavioral descriptors like sensitive, warm, and caring. And women who buck these stereotypes tend to elicit more negative feedback, added Bernstein.

In order for psychiatry as a whole to move forward, leaders in the field need to address the lack of parity in rank and leadership by gender, make efforts to retain more female leaders, and make strides towards gender equality in compensation by providing transparent salary data, according to Bernstein.

For female psychiatrists, Bernstein suggests seeking out a sponsor, a male or female leader with power and influence that recognizes untapped leadership potential and provides public support. “I don’t mean to disparage the importance of mentors,” said Bernstein, “but sponsors are advocates, while mentors are behind the scenes encouragers.”

The most accurate predictor of subsequent success for female undergraduates is the percentage of women among the faculty,” said Bernstein. “I don’t want to just point at statistics, but the numbers matter.”


Bernstein CA. Up the Down Staircase: Continuing Challenges for Women in Leadership. Presented at: APA 2015. May 16-20, 2015; Toronto, Canada.