Income Disparity

With all the publicity healthcare has been getting over the last few weeks, a recent report in the New York Times went somewhat unnoticed.  It shows that academic women physicians, when matched attribute for attribute, are paid less than their male counterparts.  In many ways this should not be shocking, as it happens everywhere, but it just seems very strange that we can’t even get it right in medicine.  The part that is even more concerning is that it is not even that close.  This story should get us all thinking.

It is also interesting to note the first part of the blog, where there is a discussion on how women and men physicians differ on how they respond to questions and comments at medical symposia.  The comments are quite interesting and I wonder if these trends spill over to dinner meetings and other speaker events.  The comments made me think of Mika Brzezinski’s book on women in business and how the way women ask for money differs from men.  Take a quick look at the review and see if this might be an issue as to why men physicians may make more than women.

One of the most widely discussed articles on women in the work place is Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent piece in The Atlantic.  Can women, or men for that matter, “have it all” or is this just a topic for a motivational talk?  This blog written by a woman surgeon comments and links to the piece as well.  How can we juggle our personal and professional lives so that there is appropriate balance?  This has been a huge question for the last several decades and it would seem it is time to start getting this right.

Fifteen years ago I held a business unit meeting and thought it would be good to have a very successful women in our industry discuss how she makes the work-home balance in her life work.  Since many of those in the unit were sales women just starting their careers, I thought they would appreciate the insight.  The talk went in a completely different direction than I imagined as the executive described all the crazy things she needed to do to make this happen.  This included having her husband bring the kids and the turkey dinner to her office so they could celebrate Thanksgiving as a family during an incredibly busy period at work.  When the session ended everyone said how good the talk was because it made them realize they didn’t have it so bad compared to the speaker.  This was and is today not sustainable.

The work environment really needs to change if we are to fully utilize the talents of both men and women in today’s highly competitive world.  First and foremost, women need to be given equal pay for equal work.  Workers need to be given the freedom to juggle priorities and the organization should only demand what is absolutely essential.  Telecommuting should be the norm. It is just not efficient to have folks commute to sit in an office and do emails and teleconferences all day.  Meetings are critical, but should only take place when they are needed and should be as short as possible.  Perhaps the bottom line is the fewer rules you put on talent, either formal or informal, the more people you have in your talent pool.  You get the best people, not just the best who can follow all the rules.  This will allow you to have a huge impact over most of your competitors who still do things the old way.

Take a few minutes to think these things over.  Do an inventory of the physicians you work with as speakers and on your advisory boards.  Do you have the right balance between men and women?  Are they paid the same?  When you do visual aids and mail programs do you take into consideration the different needs, different ways of approaching data and time constraints of women and men?  How seriously do you consider family issues when you plan a launch or national meeting?  Have you ever held a meeting with just women advisors and seen how they approach issues differently when they not in mixed groups?

These are big and real issues.  We all lose when women, and men, decide they can’t have it all and then leave those companies where we all work and depend on their talents for our survival.  These issues must be addressed proactively and just because there are no complaints we have to stop assuming there are no problems.

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