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News UK & Ireland

Roxanne Mehdizadeh, Janki Solanki and Radhika Ladwa (from left to right)
0 Comments Mar 2, 2017 | News UK & Ireland

Interview: "With more females entering the dental profession, changes will be evident"

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More women are expected to graduate in dentistry in the UK than men in the years to come. With a larger share of female dentists in the overall workforce, the profession will face new challenges that need to be addressed. A society, Women in Dentistry, recently founded by King’s College London Dental Institute students is seeking to find means of raising the profile of female dental leaders through a nationwide network. Dental Tribune had the opportunity to speak with members Janki Solanki (Co-President ), Radhika Ladwa (Co-President ) and Roxanne Mehdizadeh (lead writer and publicity) about the initiative and how it intends to help female students achieve their full potential in dentistry.

Dental Tribune: Dentistry has traditionally been a male-dominated profession. Why do you think an increasing number of women have been entering the field in recent years?
Janki Solanki: The general trend in the UK is that more females are going to university than males across the board. Educationalists say the under-representation of male university students is down to attainment patterns in schools and girls outperform boys up to the age of 18. Female students who perform well at GCSE and A levels are more likely to consider high-profile courses with high entry requirements such as dentistry.

It is unclear why certain subjects attract more women than men, or vice versa. One of the key predictors of what someone will study is what subjects he or she took at A level, and recently attempts have been made to encourage girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

That the profession offers both lifelong learning and career progression opportunities, as well as the option of flexibility and part-time work, means it is suited to a variety of women, whatever their priorities in life may be. However, it is challenging to pinpoint a single reason for the increase in women entering the profession, as people have a diversity of requirements from and aspirations in life and so varying aspects of a career in dentistry will appeal to different women.

With more women entering the profession than ever before, why do they still seem to be under-represented, particularly in leadership positions?
Radhika Ladwa: While females share similar leadership aspirations, there has been a failure to create and sustain an environment in which they feel fully accepted and supported to succeed. Gender bias, especially when it comes to leadership, is evident across all industries and the profession of dentistry is no different. The assumption that a woman cannot be a good leader, or be one while exhibiting female traits, must be addressed.

Gender difference is dynamic and socially constructed, and what is considered stereotypical gender behaviour can be changed over time. Therefore, the goal is not just ensuring equal numbers of men and women (gender equality), but also acquiring fairness and justice in the pathway to higher positions (gender equity).

With our society, we hope to help provide the networks, resources and mentoring that will not only make people aware of equity issues, but also recognise the role of female leaders, and support and develop the qualities they offer, which will only strengthen the industry.

Was this the main reason for founding the group?
Solanki: Having recognised the under-representation of females in leadership positions prompted important discussions. However, we felt a suitable forum for this did not exist. Fortunately, being students at the Dental Institute, we are surrounded by incredibly successful females at the top of their field in the dental profession, and we wanted to take the opportunity to make these role models accessible to all students and learn from their experiences.

Is the society open to anyone?
Ladwa: The group was established to help students achieve their full potential in dentistry. It is open to all and in essence any dental student can become a member. In addition to this, we have over 140 followers on our Facebook page. We hope to attract female and male dental students at King’s College London, as well as graduate dentists and dental professionals, with the aim of expanding this to other UK dental schools.

Solanki: As such, we are the first society across all UK universities to focus on women in dentistry. We have received positive feedback from fellow dental schools, such as Leeds, and hope to create links that could potentially lead to national events for all dental students.

What does the society aim to achieve in the long run?
Ladwa: Raising the profile and celebrating the contributions of individuals in dentistry, and understanding and addressing any barriers women may be facing in the dental profession are two of our main goals. Furthermore, we aim to promote the furtherance of attitudes encouraging the role of women as integral in all areas of the dental field and provide accessible role models and mentors for undergraduate students. Members should also engage in outreach and promote the ethos of always giving back.

The long-term goal of Women in Dentistry is to provide a link between undergraduate dental students and practising dentists, allowing for the fostering of a solid network. This will enable dental students to develop the skills they need to achieve in the profession at this fundamental stage. It is vital to cultivate these skills now when the resources are at our fingertips and not wait for difficulties to arise in the future or when the pressures of working life increase.

It is estimated that in 2020 over half of all dentists will be female. What impact, in your opinion, could this gender shift have on the profession overall?
Roxanne Mehdizadeh: With more females entering the dental profession, changes will be evident. In addition to being more likely to work part-time, female GDPs are more likely to take career breaks (61% as compared to 27% for males) and take longer breaks when they do (Nine months as compared to four months). This, in conjunction with the fact that the number of female GDPs is overall increasing, has implications for the balance of work in the future and needs to be accounted for in workforce planning.

It is important, however, to consider the societal context of the issue. It is difficult to predict whether the situation would be the same if shared parental leave were more viable, and families were remunerated more than the current sum of £139.58 if the father decides to take paternity leave. A move towards this type of co-parenting, as seen in countries such as Sweden and Norway where over 80% of fathers take part, as compared to 1% in the UK, may lead to more women returning to work sooner, thus evening out the negative effects their leave may place on the system.

The greater relative uptake in such countries, compared with the UK, is attributed not only to a different societal attitude towards co-parenting, but also to the fact that families receive at least 60 per cent of the father’s income while he is on leave.

Furthermore, it has been argued that the feminisation of the dentistry has implications on the perception and status of the profession. Historically, fields which have undergone a predominately male to female shift in their workforce have lessened in their standing within society. This is a controversial issue, and perhaps the real subject of concern is questioning why such a perception exists when there is a lack of evidence to suggest that women are not able to deliver the same quality of care for their patients as their male colleagues.

Ultimately, the feminisation of dentistry does indeed need to be addressed, purely on the basis of achieving gender equality and a balanced workforce. The notion that women inherently devalue the profession’s societal standing or that their maternity leave is a negative factor should be challenged and viewed within the wider context. In addition, hidden inequalities such as the disparity of pay, unequal proportion of female to male specialists and lack of women in leadership roles should not be overshadowed due to the increased overall proportions of female GDPs.

Thank you very much for the interview.

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