I recently had the opportunity to attend a corporate Leadership seminar for a mixed group of Hospitalist and EM Directors. The attendee list, forwarded ahead of the conference, was promising and exciting: an amazing blend of men and women directors were listed from all over the country and I was proud to take my place alongside my colleagues.

The conference began as a joint session, and as I scanned the room I was gratified by the healthy representation of women in the room. But all this was soon dispelled when we broke off into EM and Hospitalist sessions. Suddenly the room was emptied of female directors, and tragically we were about 5 women in a sea of male faces. The ugly truth was that most of the women present were Hospitalist directors.

Female ED directors were less than 5% of the room.

As we sat down to discuss EM challenges, one of the male directors openly questioned whether I was “one of them” or a corporate assistant. Worse, the speaker list was almost exclusively male, and the ONE female speaker slated was not there to discuss Leadership, ED problem solving or how to mentor other physicians, she was actually lecturing  on charting and documentation.

The male bias did not end there. Speakers openly assumed their audience was male: one session addressed interviewing candidates by making the recommendation that we wear ties to look professional. Jokes were made about the saving presence of wives of busy directors. We were addressed as “guys”. When I asked a noted speaker a question I was called “that woman in the back”. It was a sobering a depressing experience.

Women make up a healthy proportion of EM graduating classes and we should not be such a glaring minority in leadership. The  most recent ACEP Board picture highlighted this sobering  disparity. We need to support women and encourage them to step up and interview for directorships, regional directorships and EVP positions. ACEP and AAEM need to actively recruit and women into leadership positions. Our specialty suffers from this “boys club” mentality. We have so much to offer to our profession, and upcoming female EM physicians need to have strong successful role models.

Ladies we need you to step up and be part of the change that our specialty so sorely needs, and EM leaders need to recognize that they are falling behind other specialties in leadership gender parity.