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LEEDS, UK: Researchers from the University of Leeds and the University of Liverpool examined the gender balance of invited speakers at dental conferences that were held in the UK over a two-year period. The June study found that gender was acceptably balanced at only 21.4% of conferences and concluded that conference organisers should proactively work towards making their programmes more representative of the dental workforce.
The study was the first to examine gender balance at UK dental conferences, and it had two objectives. Firstly, it aimed to analyse the gender balance of invited speakers at general and specialist dentistry conferences that were held in the UK in 2018 and 2019. The second objective was to consider how the gender balance of invited speakers related to that of registered dental specialists.
The researchers examined a total of 25 dental conference programmes and 14 conference domains from the two-year period. For biennial conferences, the two most recent programmes were considered, regardless of the year in which they took place. The programmes were made available to the researchers by dental specialty societies and by the British Dental Association (BDA) and, where programmes were unavailable, the public domain was searched for information. Data was extracted concerning the gender of the invited speaker, the length of the presentation, the professional role of the speaker, the gender of panel members and the gender of session chairs. The researchers agreed that women accounting for between 40% and 60% of invited speakers would constitute a gender balance.
In total, the researchers tallied 352 invited speakers from the combined conference programmes, and 39.8% were identified as female and 60.2% were identified as male. It was found that around one-fifth (21.4%) of the conference domains had an acceptable gender balance, according to the researchers’ pre-specified criteria. Female speakers outnumbered their male counterparts in 21.4% of the conference domains, and male speakers outnumbered females in the remaining 55.1% of conference domains.
Conferences in the domains of oral medicine and special care dentistry had the highest proportion of female speakers (66.7% and 61.9%, respectively) and the domains with the lowest proportion of female speakers were orthodontics (19.0%) and periodontics (18.4%). Of the total 14 conference domains, three were found to have an acceptable gender balance of invited speakers; these were dental public health conferences (48.0% male, 52.0% female), endodontics conferences (60.0% male, 40.0% female) and paediatric dentistry conferences (42.9% male, 57.1% female).
According to GDC data from 2020, 50.4% of registered dentists in the UK identified as female and 49.6% identified as male
Of the total invited speakers in the combined conference programmes, 46.9% were registered on General Dental Council (GDC) specialist lists, and 38.5% of specialty conferences were found to have an acceptable gender balance.
Specialty conferences on oral medicine and dental public health had the highest proportion of female specialist speakers (100% and 75%, respectively). Specialty conferences with the lowest proportion of female specialist speakers were periodontics, with 10.5%, and endodontics, which featured no specialist female speakers in the data that was available for analysis.
In discussing the findings, the researchers highlighted a number of limitations, such as the fact that the study was reliant on binary gender data.
The authors concluded: “Gender imbalance exists in speakers invited to present at recent conferences in dentistry. There is a call for further research to drive equity in the characteristics of invited speakers and to determine whether there is correlation with respect to representation in the composition of dental conference organising committees, leadership and professional roles, and to the workforce.”
It was urged that conference organisers “strive proactively and prospectively towards more representative programmes for the entire profession”.
According to GDC data from 2020, 50.4% of registered dentists in the UK identified as female and 49.6% identified as male.
The study, titled “Speaking up for balance: Analysis of the gender of invited speakers at UK dental conferences”, was published online on 25 June 2021 in the British Dental Journal, ahead of inclusion in an issue.
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