A New England Journal of Medicine commentary says men in academic medicine are using the #MeToo movement to justify avoiding mentorship of women, depriving the women of key opportunities to advance their careers.

The six authors of Men’s Fear of Mentoring in the Era of #MeToo: What’s at Stake for Academic Medicine say there is a persistent gender gap in academic medical leadership roles. Gender parity for enrollment in U.S. and Canadian medical schools has existed for decades, yet women account for only 16 per cent of medical school deans and 15 per cent of department chairs.

“Why are we not seeing more representation of women in leadership positions?” wondered lead author Dr. Sophie Soklaridis, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) scientist. “There has to be something going on that is making academic medicine a chilling climate for women.”

The authors say, when women started to outnumber men in Canadian medical schools, some leaders in the field raised concerns about the “feminization of medicine,” even proposing that affirmative action initiatives for men might be required to close that gender gap in enrolment. Of particular concern to the authors is a lack of mentoring opportunities for women in academic medicine relative to men, in part, because men claim they fear false allegations of sexual misconduct.

The authors argue mentorship is essential for career advancement in any field, including academic medicine. Nevertheless, women report less access to mentors than their male colleagues.

“Having a mentor, someone who opens doors for you, makes all the difference in the world,” said Dr. Catherine Zahn, CAMH president and CEO. “Without mentors, women do not have the opportunities their male colleagues enjoy. Over and over again, I’ve seen women without strong mentorship choose a pathway different than they may have preferred.”

The authors make several recommendations to facilitate the type of mentorship that would help address the gender gap in academic medicine leadership roles, including establishing mentorship/sponsorship programs; offering leadership development programs and implicit bias training; providing flexibility in structuring career paths for women, including promotion pathways and advancement criteria; supporting universal access to family and medical leave policies; and creating explicit, equitable and transparent departmental compensation arrangements.

The other co-authors are Deborah Gillis, CAMH Foundation president and CEO; Dr. Valerie Taylor, University of Calgary psychiatry department head; Dr. Ayelet Kuper, Wilson Centre for Research in Education, University Health Network, University of Toronto scientist and associate director; and Dr. Cynthia Whitehead, Women’s College Hospital education vice-president.