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Sexism and discrimination discouraging women GPs from partnerships, study finds

by Beth Gault
19 May 2023

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Women GPs face ‘longstanding gendered barriers’ including sexism and discriminatory practices that discourage them from partnership roles, according to a study in the BJGP.

The study looked into the reasons affecting uptake of partnership roles, particularly focusing on gender differences. Despite women making up 53% of the full-time equivalent UK GP workforce, the percentage of female partners is just 41%.

The qualitative mixed methods study included 40 GP interviews, looking at 232 GPs tweeting about partnership roles and holding seven focus groups made up of 50 GPs.

Results found that women GPs faced ‘overt sexism, differential treatment by colleagues and patients, lower respect and gendered societal norms’, which all influenced their career decisions.

They typically faced more negative experiences of balancing work and family life, working conditions such as maternity and sick leave, and discriminatory practices.  

Greater flexibility needed

The authors suggested that increasing the flexibility of the partner role could help to increase uptake among women, as many of those surveyed had made career decisions based on ‘facilitating family life’. This included going part-time due to the cost of childcare, or cultural expectations on women to be in the home.

One female partner said: ‘Medicine still feels very patriarchal, valuing working long hours, devaluing part-time workers. I have suffered micro-aggressions from patients and partners. An ex-partner completely changed his attitude towards me once I had kids and went part-time.’

Another said: ‘I have spoken to partners at my current practice who have suggested I might not be ready for partnership as a new mum, the responsibilities may be too much and I might be better to wait. For me, being a new mum doesn’t put me off partnership.’

The authors said that for women, buying into a practice was likely to coincide with timings for having children, which could reduce the uptake of partnership roles due to lower earnings and the need to cover locum costs.

They added that while NHS England’s ‘New to Partnership Payment’ scheme could help, there was ‘scant awareness’ of the initiative and ‘concern’ about the terms of support.

Change of culture

The authors also suggested that promoting positive workplace cultures through ‘strong role models’ could help increase the number of female partners. 

‘Women also described first-hand experiences of difficult pay negotiations and fears around risking working relationships,’ the authors said.

‘These experiences, together with those described around gender stereotypes from patients and colleagues, suggests that the culture in general practice has room for improvement.’

One female salaried GP said during a focus group: ‘It feels as though we may spend our 20s training, 30s having babies, 40s doubting ourselves and feeling our male counterparts have already taken all the leadership roles and 50s wanting to retire… partnership needs to become more flexible and understanding of the needs and skills women in their 30s offer in order to be more attainable.’