The Roles of Gender and Demeanor in Perceptions of Female Surgeons
Societal expectations vary according to gender. Men are expected to be direct and assertive (“agentic”), while women are expected to be supportive and nurturing (“communal”). In professions that are traditionally male-dominated, such as surgery, agentic traits are expected and rewarded. This creates a double standard for female surgeons, who are simultaneously expected to be communal and agentic. We conducted a series of studies between 2006 and 2015 with the goal of characterizing the demeanor of female surgeons, how female surgeons perceive their demeanor, and how professional colleagues, trainees, and patients perceive their demeanor. We first conducted a series of focus groups with female nurses and surgeons, next administered a survey to female surgical trainees and staff surgeons, and finally conducted a series of survey-based studies to characterize the perceptions of trainees and colleagues. We found that there is still a mismatch between expected and actual demeanor for female surgeons, that female surgeons and trainees believe that their demeanor consists of both agentic and communal traits, and that communal surgeons are preferred by nurses, trainees, and colleagues, but not by patients.