Challenges in oncology career: are we closing the gender gap? Results of the new ESMO Women for Oncology Committee survey.

Linardou H, Adjei AA, Bajpai J, Banerjee S, Berghoff AS, Mathias CC, Choo SP, Dent R, Felip E, Furness AJS, Garassino MC, Garralda E, Konsoulova-Kirova A, Letsch A, Menzies AM, Mukherji D, Peters S, Sessa C, Tsang J, Yang JC, Garrido P. ESMO Open. 2023 Feb 24;8(2):100781. doi: 10.1016/j.esmoop.2023.100781. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36842299.


Background: Following a European Society for Medical Oncology Women for Oncology (ESMO W4O) survey in 2016 showing severe under-representation of female oncologists in leadership roles, ESMO launched a series of initiatives to address obstacles to gender equity. A follow-up survey in October 2021 investigated progress achieved.

Materials and methods: The W4O questionnaire 2021 expanded on the 2016 survey, with additional questions on the impact of ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion on career development. Results were analysed according to respondent gender and age.

Results: The survey sample was larger than in 2016 (n = 1473 versus 482), especially among men. Significantly fewer respondents had managerial or leadership roles than in 2016 (31.8% versus 51.7%). Lack of leadership development for women and unconscious bias were considered more important in 2021 than in 2016. In 2021, more people reported harassment in the workplace than in 2016 (50.3% versus 41.0%). In 2021, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion were considered to have little or no impact on professional career opportunities, salary setting or related potential pay gap. However, gender had a significant or major impact on career development (25.5% of respondents), especially in respondents ≤40 years of age and women. As in 2016, highest ranked initiatives to foster workplace equity were promotion of work-life balance, development and leadership training and flexible working. Significantly more 2021 respondents (mainly women) supported the need for culture and gender equity education at work than in 2016.

Conclusions: Gender remains a major barrier to career progression in oncology and, although some obstacles may have been reduced since 2016, we are a long way from closing the gender gap. Increased reporting of discrimination and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace is a major, priority concern. The W4O 2021 survey findings provide new evidence and highlight the areas for future ESMO interventions to support equity and diversity in oncology career development.