By Deborah Mukherji, MBBS, and Sally Temraz, MD
DM: “How about organizing a forum for women in oncology at the next annual meeting?”
President of local society: “Yes, sure—female cancers are an important topic.”
DM: “No, not cancer in women—a forum for female oncologists to network and discuss challenges and strategies to overcome them.”
President: “Great idea! We never thought about that before.”
After proposing a forum for women in oncology as part of the annual Lebanese Society of Medical Oncology (LSMO) meeting in 2018, many colleagues were supportive, but the scientific committee decided that this might be discriminatory towards men and the proposed session did not go ahead.
Instead, we designed a survey for female attendees approved by our Institutional Research Board and received permission to administer the survey at the 2018 LSMO meeting in Beirut and subsequently at the 2018 Pan-Arab Cancer Congress in Tunis. The sample may not be representative of all women oncologists in the region, but it has given us important insights.
The main findings of our survey were that 64% of the respondents believed that their gender had an impact on their career; 58% reported problems finding a balance between work and family and 50% reported difficulties attending international meetings. Despite this, 57% covered a managerial or leadership role within their work and 64% had published an article as first or corresponding author.1
The results of our survey were surprisingly similar to results published by Banerjee et al from a survey conducted by the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO).2
At the end of our questionnaire, respondents had the chance to share their thoughts on strategies to improve gender equality in the region. Most supported the idea of having a network for support and capacity building specifically for women oncologists. Other ideas included quotas for female representation in local societies and meetings plus increased use of online career development tools.
In a traditionally male-dominated environment, we were encouraged to find that at least in the small sample of women oncologists in the Middle East who responded to our survey, women are well-represented in academic and leadership positions. In common with women all over the world, there are still barriers to be overcome and difficulties balancing family and career.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were concerned to observe the recurrence of the all-male panel, or “manel” (see our ASCO Connection blog post "COVID-19: Gender Balance Forgotten in an Outbreak of 'Webinar Fever'"). We have been raising awareness that conscious efforts need to continue to ensure that educational meetings are gender-inclusive and sensitive to the time commitments of all participants.
Dr. Mukherji (disclosure) and Dr. Temraz (disclosure) are medical oncologists at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, Lebanon, focusing primarily on gastrointestinal and genitourinary oncology. Follow Dr. Mukherji on Twitter @dmukherji.
- Salem R, Haibe Y, Dagher C, et al. Female Oncologists in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress towards gender equality. ESMO Open. 2019;4:e000487.
- Banerjee S, Dafni U, Allen T, et al. Gender-related challenges facing oncologists: the results of the ESMO Women for Oncology Committee survey. ESMO Open. 2018;3:e000422.