Today is International Women’s Day – a celebration of equality and creating a better future.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. March 8th became the designated day of celebration in 1917 during a wartime strike when Russian women demanded “bread and peace”. After four days of striking, the tsar abdicated by force, and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

It finally became officially recognized by the United Nations in 1975.

This year, the theme is #BreaktheBias. “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”

The United Nations encourages a focus on climate change: “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.”

Equal Representation Within Oncology

Gender bias within healthcare has been a long-standing issue, and whilst progress has been made, improvement is still necessary. Today we see more women in oncology than ever, but studies show there are less women in leadership roles and they may have significantly lower salaries.

A new study on gender bias within clinical trials revealed that women were most underrepresented in the area of oncology. The data used in the study included 20,020 clinical trials and more than 5 million participants collectively.

The lead author of the study, Dr Jecca Steinberg, commented on the necessity of these findings:

“Clinical trials represent the gold standard of evidence for the progression of medical care. Sex bias in clinical trials leads to treatments with understudied efficacy in the neglected sex. The historic underrepresentation of females in trials has contributed to the relative deficiency in knowledge on the prevention strategies, disease manifestations, prognosis, and treatment of disease in females.”

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in the USA discovered huge gender distribution gaps in leadership positions within academic oncology programs. Out of the total faculty body in medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgical oncology programs women represented only 35.9%.

Only 24.4% of women held leadership positions and, even lower, only 16.3% of women chaired the oncology departments.

Dr Pamela Kunz, a gastrointestinal oncologist, started coming up against discrimination when she took on leadership roles at Stanford University. Since then, she has actively participated in raising awareness and helping to promote change within oncology departments.

She believes that we need to normalize talking openly about gender biases and has started her own research projects to help improve inequalities.

When asked about her research, Dr Kunz said:

“Contributing to objective data around some of these gender disparities and discrimination issues in the professional workforce will be helpful, given that oncologists are scientists, and they make decisions based on data.”

She also recognizes that we must bring intersectionality to the forefront of any conversation around disparities:

“Women who identify with other marginalized groups, such as BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, or other people of colour] or gender minorities, face additional challenges and inequities.” 

Gender Disparity in the UK

Globally the UK has the 12th largest female health gap. Manual, a wellbeing platform for men, published a study on gender gaps in healthcare around the world.

The UK has a lot of work to do to balance gender inequalities. Even though there are higher numbers of women in the NHS workforce, men are paid more than their female colleagues working in NHS trusts.

Last June, following a government inquiry, a string of healthcare scandals spanning over several decades was found due to serious medical complications being dismissed as “women’s problems”.  This culture of assuming certain maladies are just “women’s problems” runs deep historically and will require strong, progressive voices in powerful positions to change it.

At RMDM, we actively support making sure women have equal opportunity and access to cancer screenings and research.

To help enable earlier detection for everyone, we are working hard to make our PanTum Detect test available in the UK. We are currently discussing potential partnerships with labs and clinics around the UK.

By starting conversations about gender bias in education, workplaces, and research we can begin to dismantle biased views and move towards a progressive future.