(Reuters Health) - Women are less likely than men to gain sponsorship from their mentors in academic medicine, a survey of National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant recipients suggests.
“The best way to summarize the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship is as follows: a mentor talks with you; a sponsor talks about you,” Dr. Reshma Jagsi from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, told Reuters Health in an email.
The new findings, she said, “suggest that differences in sponsorship may help explain some of the sex differences we see in the outcomes of careers in (medicine).”
Jagsi and colleagues surveyed 995 researchers who had won NIH Mentored Career Development grants and who remained in academic medicine, to determine if sponsorship differs among men and women.
More men (77 percent) than women (71 percent) reported any sponsorship experience, as well as specific sponsorship opportunities, the research team reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Sponsorship was significantly associated with success: 73 percent of men and 59 percent of women who reported sponsorship were successful, compared with 58 percent of men and 49 percent of women who did not report sponsorship.
“We need to recognize the importance of sponsorship in developing the future leaders of academic medicine,” Jagsi said. “Those in positions to serve as sponsors should actively consider all promising young faculty with whom they interact, and not necessarily just those who remind them of themselves or come to mind most quickly.”
Also, she said, “junior faculty who hope one day to lead the field should recognize the importance of cultivating sponsors who are willing to risk their own reputations to give them visible opportunities to demonstrate their abilities.”
Dr. Rita F. Redberg from University of California, San Francisco, who coauthored an editorial related to this report, told Reuters Health by email, “I was most surprised that both women and men mentors are less likely to sponsor woman mentees than man mentees. To me, this drives home how pervasive and how deeply our differential treatment of the sexes is ingrained. I am sure this difference was not conscious or intentional by the mentors, but a problem for women nonetheless.”
“I hope that articles like these that ‘raise the consciousness’ about disparities in opportunities and treatment by sex will be an important step towards changing the behaviors,” she said. “The article certainly has had an impact on me, and I have been actively working to promote opportunities for women in medicine for more than 20 years without specifically thinking of this sponsorship issue.”
Dr. Anne K. Monroe from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore earlier reported on the gender disparity in top leadership positions in academic medicine. She told Reuters Health by email, “These sponsorship opportunities are associated with academic success, and it’s important to promote equity in achieving success. Thankfully, it is possible to increase sponsorship, which can potentially lead to meaningful advances for women in academic medicine.”
She suggested three possibilities for change: “1) Bring transparency to the selection process for leadership positions . . . and give all interested parties the opportunity to apply. 2) Develop systems so that (senior people meet with junior people) to determine types of opportunities that are of interest . . . (and) then sponsor them for those roles. 3) Formally recognize sponsorship – . . . the Department of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine now awards an annual Sponsorship Award for demonstrating commitment to supporting and advancing women faculty and fellows by acting as a sponsor.”
“If you are senior faculty member in an influential role, i.e., someone who controls resources and makes leadership decisions, you have the power to shape the gender and racial makeup of leadership positions in your institution,” Dr. Monroe said. “For junior faculty, recognize the types of opportunities that support your professional advancement and ask to be sponsored for them.”