Male dominated workplaces can undermine women's identification with their occupations and their sense that they are progressing in their careers.
That is the conclusion of research being presented to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Occupational Psychology in Brighton.
Kim Peters from the University of Queensland and her fellow researchers investigated the surgical speciality in medicine. Here women made up 14.8 per cent of trainees in 1998 but only 7.7 per cent of consultants a decade later.
To investigate why this might be the case, the researchers surveyed trainee surgeons based in the UK -- 1149 of them completed an online questionnaire that assessed their view of the profession and their place in it.
The analysis showed that male trainees and older trainees were more likely to think of themselves as fitting the prototype of a surgeon. They were, for instance, more likely to agree with the statements "I see a place for myself among surgical consultants" and "Generally, I feel good when I think about myself as a surgeon."
The researchers' analysis also showed that male trainees and older trainees tended to identify more strongly with their identity as surgeons. Men saw themselves as performing better than their peers, and this effect became stronger over time.
Kim Peters says: "The broken 'surgical pipeline' of women is a serious problem. Women are increasingly well represented in most other areas of medicine, but in surgery there are few women trainees and not enough of them progress to become consultants.
"Our research found there were gender differences in trainees' perceptions of prototype fit, surgical identification and perceptions, with men generally reporting higher levels of these variables.
"Importantly, this gender difference became stronger over time, which suggests that it is immersion in a male-dominated environment that undermines female surgeons and trainees.
"If we want to seal this leaky pipeline, we need to pay attention to the subtle dynamics that lead underrepresented groups to see a lack of fit with occupational prototypes, which can increase the tendency for them to identify less strongly with their career or even opt out of it altogether."
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