Lara presents a literature review that focuses on problematic mentoring situations that occur across gender lines. The authors look to understand both men and women’s experiences as they examine gender inequities within and outside the mentoring relationship.

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KeyLIME Session 352

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Murphy et. al., Mentoring Relationships and Gender Inequities in Academic Medicine: Findings From a Multi-Institutional Qualitative Study. Acad Med. 2021 Sept 7. Online ahead of print.


Lara Varpio (@LaraVarpio)


  • Focus: problematic mentoring situations that occur across gender lines.
  • Literature review: previous research has recognized that the experience of mentoring can vary by gender, notably to the woman’s disadvantage. They also highlight speculation that sexual harassment in mentoring relationships is particularly problematic and hard to address.


  • Authors set out to understand how men and women in academic medicine experience, perceive and try to address gender inequities within and outside the mentoring relationship.

Key Points on the Methods

  • Subset of data from a large program of research that investigates women’s and men’s experiences and perceptions of gender inequities in medicine.
  • Worked from a social constructionist and constructivist tradition
  • Participants: 52 women and 52 men who were academic medicine faculty at 16 different institutions across the United States. They purposively sampled for diversity in geography, prestige of the institution, and ownership; also equal numbers of women and men in relations to degrees, age, and career stage
  • Analysis: they constructed codes both inductively and deductively. They did 3 cycles of initial coding with 10 transcripts.
  • Pulled from the coded data all the transcript segments where the codes for “experiences or observations of gender” and “experiences of mentorship” occurred at the same time.

Key Outcomes

  • 4 ways that mentoring intersected with gender inequalities.
  • 1: Participants learned about gender inequities from women mentors and mentees. One man described that his women mentees routinely received “inappropriate text messages and emails from prior mentors.” They could also learn about gender inequity from women mentors. One woman saw her woman mentor be ignored when an open chair position became available, while junior men colleagues were identified as candidates.
  • 2: Helping women mentees navigate inequitable environments. The study participants clearly recognized that women faced challenges and inequalities in academic medicine, and made deliberate efforts to help women navigate these inequities. BUT they didn’t describe making efforts to create a more level playing field.
  • 3: Balancing work and family responsibilities. Women who were in leadership roles and who had children were a powerful role model for a lot of women mentees – just showing that it was possible. Explicitly acknowledging that being a woman with children made success in academic medicine hard was an important recognition for women mentees. Participants also highlighted the importance of family friendly workplaces that support women’s pregnancies and childcare responsibilities.
  • 4: Experiences of sexual harassment. Some women participants talked about being sexually harassed by men mentors. None of the men described such experiences.

Key Conclusions

  • Efforts to address sexual inequalities are directed at either navigating success despite the problem or helping individuals by having supporting learning environments. But none of this dismantles the social structures and traditions that maintain the inequities.

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