Women in key positions in medical research are relatively few and far between. The whole system needs to be reformed to fix it.
Women make up nearly 69% of total staff at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) and 80% for the medical and nursing professions. However, no more than 15% of positions in charge of hospital services are held by women, according to figures for 2020. These percentages are similar at many private and public companies, including other university hospitals.
Despite measures to raise awareness about equality, change is slow to come. This inertia comes from the hierarchy in medical professions, and how to evolve within it. More senior positions are related to research, which requires an intense, less predictable work schedule than clinical activity. “You have to reach the highest possible level in a short period of time, a requirement that is not always compatible with building a family life,” says Marine Jequier Gygax, associate physician, senior lecturer and clinical researcher with the Service of Autism Spectrum Disorders within the Department of Psychiatry at the CHUV.
Combining clinical work, academic career and private life means having three full-time jobs. “Research then takes a back seat, in the evenings and on weekends, so priority can go to our patients,” adds Antje Horsch, associate professor at the UNIL’s Institute of Higher Education and Research in Healthcare and psychologist with the CHUV’s Woman-Mother-Child Department.
Without research, one cannot take on a position of responsibility, and without a position of responsibility, teaching is practically out of reach. From their studies to their first position at a university hospital, women often find themselves in a male dominated environment with well-defined codes and no one to identify with. “This is one of the obstacles directly related to how women are represented in the workplace,” Marine Jequier Gygax laments. “Young women tend to position themselves based on the codes in place rather than by their skills and goals. But they should be able to think of themselves as leaders!”
Working hours, job specifications and the conditions for moving into positions of responsibility – the whole system should be overhauled. “Women are not less interested than men, but we need to boost the appeal of positions and make them compatible with other life roles and responsibilities,” says Antje Horsch. The hospital has everything to gain, because “institutions and companies function better with diverse teams,” she adds. “Studies show this.”
Along with teleworking, co-directorships are one solution that should be explored, as they make part-time work possible. “We also need to create networks for women in management to inform them about hierarchy works,” says Marine Jequier Gygax. Networking like this should be integrated into the structure, promote dialogue within management, suggest ideas and hold the power of influence.”
Today, many women combine clinical work and research at the CHUV. The following pages present 12 women, who discuss the hurdles they have encountered as well as some of the encouraging changes they have witnessed.