Women harassed and undermined as part of BMA ‘old boy’s club’ – report
The British Medical Association (BMA) has an “old boy’s club culture” which treats women “as of less importance and ability”, a damning report says.
The independent review of sexism and bullying at the “toxic” organisation found some men “continue to address women in demeaning terms, such as ‘girls’, ‘silly girls’, ‘naughty girls’, ‘little ladies’, ‘lady members’, ‘Madam Chair’ and ‘wee lassies’.”
Daphne Romney QC was commissioned by the BMA to carry out the investigation after female doctors spoke out against sexual harassment and sexism at the trade union.
In interviews, female doctors and members of staff told Ms Romney they feel “undervalued, ignored, and patronised because they are women.”
The report said: “This is because of an ‘old boy’s 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’.”
Ms 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.”
The report said women are outnumbered on committees – for example, on the GPs committee men outnumber women by two to one, even though 54% of GPs are women.
Ms Romney recommended that quotas or minimum numbers are introduced for women on committees – a move she said she expected would 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.”
Ms 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.
Ms Norris told GP Online on Thursday she and colleagues felt “vindicated and enormously relieved” by Ms 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.
“I arrived in July determined to tackle these cultural issues and this report gives us clear recommendations to do that,” he added.
In line with Ms 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.