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Lessons Learned From The U.S. Women’s 2019 World Cup Championship

We are a soccer family. My 9-year-old son plays and my father-in-law is a former collegiate and professional player. Needless to say, we were glued to the television watching the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament. While it was remarkable watching these athletes triumph, the tournament was also full of social and political commentary. It made me begin to wonder: how does all of this relate back to podiatry?

First, the team made no secret of their feelings toward the gender pay gap in their field. Although worthy discussion exists based on revenue ratios and pay structure, the truth is the Women’s World Cup championship prize is a fraction of the Men’s World Cup championship prize. There is debate as to the true difference between earnings of players on the U.S. Men’s and Women’s national teams, but the data thus far shows a deficit in the women’s pay regardless of mitigating factors.1

In 2016, a Wall Street Journal piece highlighted gender pay discrepancies in “elite” jobs and found that women in podiatry specifically earn 65 percent of that of their male counterparts. That is even less compared to our MD and DO colleagues.2,3 Why is this? At the Women’s World Cup finals, fans in the stands chanted “equal pay…equal pay.” This show of support is fantastic but how does the soccer industry, the field of podiatry or any profession for that matter transform this into meaningful change?

The other theme that struck me during the Women’s World Cup tournament was that of female leadership. These U.S. players gave their all on the field and excelled in their sport. They also were not shy about expressing personal, political and social opinions. This was met with mixed reviews but that did not change the drive or passion behind their statements.

As the current President of the American Association for Women Podiatrists (AAWP), I have the privilege of working with and around female leaders in our profession on a regular basis. In our organization and in any podiatric organization, women need to continue to stand up and use their skills, talents and passion to be impactful voices in our field. Regardless of our stage in life, whether it be as a student, new practitioner, seasoned surgeon or someone who is ready to retire, there are important contributions to be made by all.

Disappointingly, in medicine in general, gender parity is not reflected in leadership. A Harvard Business Review article cites only 18 percent of hospital CEOs being female and only 16 percent of deans or department heads are female.4 Full professorships at academic medical centers are only 22 percent female.5 What are the roadblocks to more even representation of genders in leadership roles?

Bias, both conscious and unconscious, plays a role. Social norms and expectations of women, especially if they choose to have children, lead women to feel torn between family and professional activities. Family and maternity leave policies across the board in the U.S. are significantly shorter than those in other countries, and the medical field is even more so.

Sexual harassment, sadly, also plays a role. A study of female academic doctors revealed that 30 percent of Generation X-aged women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in comparison to four percent of their male colleagues. Women physicians are also more likely to experience harassment from patients.4

Although there are many other contributing factors, let us take some cues from the Women’s World Cup champions. All of us, men and women, should work together for the betterment of our profession. We should advocate for supportive, family-friendly policies for both genders, including convenient and affordable quality child care or elder care. Career flexibility, when appropriate, should be integrated more fully into medicine as a whole.

Let us institute training on implicit bias and increase education on and safe reporting of harassment. Across the board, we need to review salaries and hold regular reviews for income quality and equity. We need to provide more peer mentoring, leadership training and support for our colleagues at any stage of their life.

Let us be inspired by these athletes. Let us dig deep and examine where we are as a profession and where we would like to be. And let us make sure women have seats at the table when we make it happen. 

Dr. Spector is a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, and President of the American Association For Women Podiatrists.

Jennifer J. Spector, DPM, Associate Editor

1. Kelly M. Are U.S. women’s soccer players really earning less than men? Washington Post. Available at: Published July 8, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019.

2. What’s your pay gap? Wall Street Journal.
Available at: Accessed July 12, 2019.

3. Adamy J, Overberg P. Women in elite jobs face stubborn pay gap. Wall Street Journal. Available at: Updated May 17, 2016. Accessed July 12, 2019.

4. Mangurian C, Linos E, Sarkar U, Rodriguez C, Jagsi R. What’s holding women in medicine back from leadership? Harvard Business Review. Available at: Published June 19, 2018. Updated November 7, 2018. Accessed July 12, 2019.

5. Cox E. Why aren’t more women in health care leadership roles? U.S. News and World Report. Available at: Published January 10, 2019. Accessed July 12, 2019.

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