The COVID-19 pandemic and the upheaval it is causing may be leading to novel manifestations of the well-established mechanisms by which women have been marginalized in professional roles, robbing the field of the increased collective intelligence that exists when diverse perspectives are embraced. Unconscious bias, gendered expectations, and overt hostility minimize the contributions of women in academic medicine to the detriment of all. The current environment of heightened stress and new socially distant forms of communication may be exacerbating these well-recognized obstacles to women contributing to the field. Of note, none of these actions requires ill intent; all they require is the activation of unconscious biases and almost instinctive preferences and behaviors that favor the comfortable and familiar leadershp of men in a time of extreme stress.
The authors argue that it is time to investigate the frequency of behaviors that limit both the recognition and the very exercise of women’s leadership during this pandemic, which is unprecedented but nevertheless may recur in the future. Leaders in health care must pay attention to equity, diversity, and inclusion given increases in undermining and harassing behaviors towards women during this crisis. The longer-term consequences of marginalizing women may hamper efforts to combat the next pandemic, so the time to flatten the rising gender bias curve in academic medicine is now.