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Gender-related challenges facing oncologists: the results of the ESMO Women for Oncology Committee survey
  1. Susana Banerjee1,
  2. Urania Dafni2,
  3. Tamara Allen3,
  4. Dirk Arnold4,
  5. Giuseppe Curigliano M.D.5,
  6. Elena Garralda6,
  7. Marina Chiara Garassino7,
  8. John Haanen8,
  9. Eva Hofstädter-Thalmann9,
  10. Caroline Robert10,
  11. Cristiana Sessa11,
  12. Zoi Tsourti12,
  13. Panagiota Zygoura12,
  14. Solange Peters13
  1. 1 Gynaecology Department, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK
  2. 2 National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece
  3. 3 Pideia Ltd, Liverpool, UK
  4. 4 Oncology Department, Section Hematology and Palliative Care, Asklepios Klinik Altona, Hamburg, Germany
  5. 5 Division of Early Drug Development for Innovative Therapies, Department of Oncology and Hemato-Oncology, University of Milano European Institute of Oncology, Milan, Italy
  6. 6 Early Drug Development Unit, Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, Barcelona, Spain
  7. 7 Thoracic Oncology Unit, Medical Oncology Department, Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, Milano, Italy
  8. 8 Division of Medical Oncology, The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  9. 9 Janssen, The Pharmaceutical Company of Johnson & Johnson, Vienna, Austria
  10. 10 Dermatology Unit, Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus, Villejuif, France
  11. 11 Clinical Trial Unit, Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale, Bellinzona, Switzerland
  12. 12 Frontier Science Foundation-Hellas, Athens, Greece
  13. 13 Oncology Department, Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), Lausanne, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Susana Banerjee; Susana.Banerjee{at}


Background Although women account for a growing proportion of the oncology workforce, there is evidence they are under-represented in leadership roles. To gain further insights into this issue and extend understanding of gender challenges, the European Society for Medical Oncology Women for Oncology (W4O) Committee undertook a survey of female and male oncologists in 2016.

Design The 2016 W4O questionnaire included questions on (1) Demographics and professional environment, (2) Gender impact on career development, (3) Challenges for career progression and inappropriate behaviour experienced in the workplace, (4) Barriers for gender parity and (5) The gender gap. Between July and September 2016, the online survey was available to male and female clinical and academic oncology healthcare professionals in the EU and internationally.

Results Responses were analysed from 462 oncologists, of whom 76.7 % were women. Of female respondents, 45.5 % had a managerial or leadership role, compared with 65 % of male respondents (p<0.001). Men were more likely to have leadership roles, even in clinical teams with more women than men. Women respondents were more likely to consider their gender had a major impact on their career than men: 35.9 % vs 20.9 % (p<0.001). The biggest challenge to career progression for women was work and family balance (64.2%). Of female respondents, 14.4 % believed there had been significant or major progress in closing the gender pay gap compared with 39.3 % of men (p<0.001). Of female participants, 37.7 % reported they had encountered unwanted sexual comments by a superior or colleague.

Conclusions New initiatives are needed to address under-representation of women oncologists in leadership roles, including greater and concrete promotion of work–life balance, development and leadership training for women, and more support for flexible working. The fact that over a third of women in the survey had encountered unwanted sexual comments at work is of great concern and must be urgently addressed.

  • gender
  • gender bias
  • medical oncology
  • workplace

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  • Funding The 2016 Women for Oncology (W4O) survey was funded by ESMO.

  • Competing interests DA has received research funding and/or honoraria from Roche, Merck Serono, Bayer Healthcare, Servier, BTG, Terumo, Sanofi Oncology, Eli Lilly and has participated in non-financial roles as ECCO Executive Board member, ECCO Oncopolicy Group member, EORTC Task Force member (Gastrointestinal cancers)—Global PI function with MOLOGEN, IMPALA trial (MGN 1703 as investigative agent). GC has received research funding and/or honoraria from Roche, Novartis, Pfizer and has participated in non-financial roles as a member of Steering Committee in clinical trials, member of data safety monitoring committee for clinical trials. MCG has received research funding and/or honoraria from MSD, BMS, Roche Astra Zeneca, Takeda and Eli Lilly. EG has participated as Advisor for Roche, Neomed Therapeutics and Ellypses Pharma. EH-T is an employee of Janssen, the Pharmaceutical Company of Johnson & Johnson Europe, and a shareholder of Johnson & Johnson. CR has been a consultant for BMS, Riche, Novartis, Pierre Fabre, MDS and Amgen. CS is a Scientific Consultant for SAKK (Swiss group for cancer research treatment) and has participated in non-financial roles as the ESGO Vice President, Principal Investigator for the Icon 8B Study, EUPATI Switzerland. SP has received research funding and/or honoraria from Genentech/Roche, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, MSD, Merck Serono, BMS, Novartis, Astra Zeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Amgen, Clovis, Regeneron, Janssen, Takeda and has participated in non-financial roles on the IASLC Board of Directors 2014–2017, SAKK lung group Vice-president, SAMO Vice-president, Froome Past President (2011–2017), ETOP Foundation Council/Scientific coordinator, ESMO president elect 2010–2021, PI ALEX trial, Genentech Steering committee, PI academic trials ETOP, EORTC/SAKK, FMH, IASLC, AACR.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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