A review of literature on the gender disparity in dental leadership positions, highlights the challenges facing women in dentistry.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (ADA) examined the literature on the prevalence of women in leadership positions in the dental profession.

The authors of the study “Women in Leadership Positions in Dentistry” looked into key leadership categories that included academia, positions in professional associations, public speaking, and in academic publishing.The paper looked at thousands of studies on gender representation global in these categories, to determine both the representation of women in leadership dental positions but also what these other studies were concluding about how to improve change it.

The authors of the study were Pooja Gangwani, DDS, MPH; Karen Bennie, BChD, MScDent, MDent; Avni Gupta, BDS, MPH; Sreenivas Koka, DDS, MS, PhD, MBA; and Despoina Bompolaki, DDS, MS, FACP.

The paper referenced the positive effects of having a more equal pairing of genders in leadership positions.

“Gender inclusion often [shows] increased economic benefits of gender diversity at the leadership level,” the authors wrote. “Gender diversity at the leadership level has improved work quality and innovation and led to better decision making, greater employee satisfaction, and enriched organizational culture.”

The amount of women entering dental professions has been steadily increasing in the past 40 years, jumping from around 13.6% of all dental school graduates in 1980 to 51.4% in 2020. In some countries women make up a substantial majority of dental professionals. As much as 60% of dentists in Europe are women. Finland stands out with women making up 75% of dentists in the country.

Despite the considerable influx of women into the field, women are substantially underrepresented when it comes to leadership positions. Citing American Dental Association (ADA) executive director Kathleen O’Loughlin, DMD, the study says that female dentists make up 18% of dental school deans and 28% of state dental society presidents.

While the study confirmed that women dental professionals were underrepresented in leadership positions, it also highlights the difficulties in addressing the problem including a phenomenon known as the “glass cliff” where women tend to be promoted to lead positions that are already under duress leading to their eventual failure.

“Women need to be cognizant of the glass cliff when seeking leadership positions and evaluate whether the opportunity is set up for them to showcase leadership success,” the paper states. “If a woman fails in her first major leadership role, she may not get a second chance.”

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