Society awards provide visibility and national recognition for physicians. Several studies have found that women were underrepresented as award recipients when compared with subspecialty workforce data. However, to our knowledge no studies have examined the gender distribution of award recipients in orthopaedic societies. Orthopaedic surgery remains among the least gender-diverse specialties in medicine. Particularly in academic practice, the increasing paucity of women with progressive rank may reflect unequal access to the currency for promotion, including national reputation and visibility. Therefore, information on orthopaedic awarding practices may help to identify and address challenges associated with recruiting, retaining, and promoting women in orthopaedics.
(1) Since the year 2000, have women orthopaedic surgeons received awards in proportion to their society membership? (2) Are the awards granted to women equally distributed across the categories of leadership, humanitarianism, education, scientific investigation, resident/fellow scientific investigation, and diversity? (3) Does the gender distribution of award recipients differ for awards bestowed through a blinded process versus an unblinded process?
Eighteen national, clinically focused orthopaedic societies in the United States were included. These societies offer a combined total of 69 awards; each award was studied from its earliest record through December 2018, resulting in a study period from 1973 to 2018. Each society provided the gender demographics of their membership in 2018. The proportion of women award recipients from 2000 to 2018 was compared with the proportion of women members in 2018 for each society. Awards were also categorized based on the six types of accomplishment they recognized (leadership, humanitarianism, education, scientific investigation, resident/fellow scientific investigation, and diversity), and whether they were granted through a blinded or unblinded selection process. Chi-square tests were used to compare the proportion of women receiving awards in various categories, and to compare the proportion of women who received awards through blinded selection processes versus unblinded selection processes.
From 2000 to 2018, women received 8% (61 of 794) of all awards and represented 9% (5359 of 59,597) of all society members. Two societies had an underrepresentation of women award recipients compared with their society membership. We found that women were not represented proportionally across award categories. Women were more likely to receive a diversity award than a leadership award (odds ratio 12.0 [95% CI 3.1 to 45.7]; p < 0.001), and also more likely to receive an education award than a leadership award (OR 4.1 [95% CI 1.3 to 12.7]). From 1973 to 2018, 17 of 22 the leadership awards offered by societies have never been granted to a woman. Finally, women were more likely to receive awards bestowed through a blinded process than an unblinded process. Women earned 11% (30 of 285) of awards bestowed through a blinded award process and 6% (31 of 509) of awards bestowed through an unblinded award process (OR 1.8 [95% CI 1.1 to 3.1]; p = 0.03).
The percent of women award recipients was generally proportional to membership overall and in most societies. However, on a national workforce level, the proportion of women award recipients is lower than the proportion of women in academic orthopaedics, which has been reported by others to be about 13%, suggesting that women in academic orthopaedics may be underrepresented as award recipients. Additionally, women were less likely to receive leadership awards than awards of other types, which suggests that women are not being recognized as leaders in orthopaedics. Women were also more likely to receive awards granted through unblinded processes, which raises concern that there may be implicit bias in orthopaedic awarding practices.
We encourage societies to examine the inclusiveness of their awards selection processes and to track the demographic information of award recipients over time to measure progress toward equal representation. Creating standardized award criteria, including women on selection committees, requiring the consideration of diverse nominees, and implicit bias training for selection committees may help to reduce bias in awarding practices.