Female Doctors Reveal Shocking Sexism At 'Old Boys' Club' BMA

Some women said they had been referred to as "naughty girls" and "wee lassies" by male members of the doctor's union.
Doctor walking through hospital corridor
Doctor walking through hospital corridor
Johner Images via Getty Images

Female doctors have been subjected to sexist remarks and bullying within the British Medical Association (BMA), with women referred to as “naughty girls” and “wee lassies” by some of their male counterparts, a damning report has revealed.

An independent review into the union found it has an “old boys’ club culture”, which treats women “as of less importance and ability”.

An investigation into the BMA, commissioned by the group itself and carried out by Daphne Romney QC, was launched after female doctors spoke out about their experiences of sexual harassment and sexism within the “toxic” organisation.

In interviews, female doctors and members of staff told Romney they feel “undervalued, ignored, and patronised because they are women.”

The report said: “This is because of an ‘old boys’ club’ culture for some that lingers on without proper challenge, which treats women as of less importance and ability.”

She said some women were not viewed as “real doctors” because they work part-time, while conversations “focus on asking them about their children, and how their husbands are coping with their absence, rather than asking them about their achievements, their career aspirations and their views on policy.”

The report went on: “Female staff with university degrees are told to make the tea, or asked whether they want to come and work as a doctor’s secretary or P.A; some have been told, ‘you have a lot to prove because you’re a woman’.”

Romney also found women having their concerns belittled or ignored, while others were shouted at, sexually harassed, bullied, or excluded from committees on which they sat.

An “excessive consumption of alcohol” at conferences also lead to incidents of sexual harassment.

“This includes being touched inappropriately, lewd and inappropriate sexual remarks directed to, or made about women, invitations or even instructions to accompany a male doctor to his hotel room, staring at a woman’s breasts, inappropriate comments about a woman’s appearance, and being kissed or hugged,” the report said.

It added: “Women are consistently made to feel that they are of less importance, and are less capable, than a man; for example, what they say does not carry the same weight.”

Some women also reported meetings taking place in their absence without their knowledge.

In one meeting, a female member of staff was given responsibility for a piece of work “but at the meeting discussing it, the male doctors present
all addressed themselves to her male colleague.”

Women are outnumbered on the BMA’s committees, the report stated. Although 54% of GPs are women, men outnumber women by two to one on the GPs committee.

In a bid to address this Romney recommended that quotas or minimum numbers should be introduced for women on committees – a move she acknowledged was likely to be “very unpopular”.

The report also said there “has been a failure of leadership for too long throughout the BMA in calling out bad behaviour, including sex discrimination, sexual harassment, rudeness and bullying of all kinds.”

Romney’s review was announced in April after two senior female GPs accused colleagues of sexism in an article for GP Online.

Katie Bramall-Stainer and Zoe Norris reported instances of belittling, having their thighs and buttocks fondled, being propositioned and having senior male colleagues trying to guess bra sizes.

Norris told GP Online on Thursday she and colleagues felt “vindicated and enormously relieved” by Romney’s report.

“The last few months have been extremely difficult – we have been subjected to abuse and accusations about our motivations in speaking out,” she said.

“We have been treated shockingly.”

But she said she believed there is “now an opportunity for real change to happen within the BMA.”

BMA chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, pledged to implement the recommendations, adding: “I am truly appalled to learn that members and staff have been subjected to sexism and sexual harassment and the behaviours described in this report. These behaviours have no place within the BMA.

“I am deeply sorry to those who have been affected and I thank all those individuals who came forward to contribute to the review – I recognise their strength and courage in speaking out.”

Dr Helena McKeown, a chief officer at the BMA and representative body chairwoman, said: “I am of an age where sexism has pervaded so many parts of my personal and working life for too long.

“It’s not just within the BMA, but that doesn’t mean we accept it; we don’t, and we won’t.”

BMA chief executive, Tom Grinyer, said he would introduce an external guardian of safe working and internal staff listening champions for all involved in the BMA.

In line with Romney’s recommendations, the BMA has launched an independent and external 24-hour support line, and an independent complaints investigation process carried out by an external firm.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s medical director of primary care and a south-east London GP, said: “The findings of the independent investigation into the claims of sexism and sexual harassment within the BMA are appalling.

“This sort of behaviour is unacceptable in any walk of life, and people who treat women in this way have no place in our profession and no place in our leadership.”


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