Four types of gender bias affecting women surgeons and their cumulative impact

Katrina Hutchison*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Women are under-represented in surgery, especially in leadership and academic roles, and face a gender pay gap. There has been little work on the role of implicit biases in women's under-representation in surgery. Nor has the impact of epistemic injustice, whereby stereotyping influences knowledge or credibility judgements, been explored. This article reports findings of a qualitative in-depth interview study with women surgeons that investigates gender biases in surgery, including subtle types of bias. The study was conducted with 46 women surgeons and trainees of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Maximum variance sampling strategies ensured a comprehensive set of perspectives. Data were analysed using iterative thematic analysis to document and classify forms of gender bias experienced by the participants, including implicit bias and epistemic injustice. It found four types of bias affecting women surgeons: (1) workplace factors such as access to parental leave and role models; (2) epistemic injustices-unfair assessments of women surgeons' credibility by patients and colleagues; (3) stereotyped expectations that they will carry out more of surgery's carework, such as meeting the emotional needs of patients and (4) objectification. Implicit biases arose in each category. Given that many of the biases identified in this study are small, are harmless on their own and are not necessarily under anyone's conscious control, important questions arise regarding how they cause harm and how to address them. I draw on theoretical work on cumulative harm to answer these questions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-241
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • ethics
  • health workforce
  • surgery
  • women


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