Perceptions and experiences of a gender gap at a Canadian research institute and potential strategies to mitigate this gap: a sequential mixed-methods study
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BACKGROUND: The gender gap in academia is long-standing. Failure to ensure that our academic faculty reflect our student pool and national population deprives Canada of talent. We explored the gender distribution and perceptions of the gender gap at a Canadian university-affiliated, hospital-based research institute. METHODS: We completed a sequential mixed-methods study. In phase 1, we used the research institute's registry of scientists (1999-2014) and estimated overall prevalence of a gender gap and the gap with respect to job description (e.g., associate v. full-time) and research discipline. In phase 2, we conducted qualitative interviews to provide context for phase 1 data. Both purposive and snowball sampling were used for recruitment. RESULTS: The institute included 30.1% (n = 62) women and 69.9% (n = 144) men, indicating a 39.8% gender gap. Most full-time scientists (60.3%, n = 70) were clinicians; there were 54.2% more male than female clinician scientists. Ninety-five percent of basic scientists were men, indicating a 90.5% gap. Seven key themes emerged from 21 interviews, including perceived impact of the gender gap, factors perceived to influence the gap, recruitment trends, presence of institutional support, mentorship and suggestions to mitigate the gap. Several factors were postulated to contribute to the gender gap, including unconscious bias in hiring. INTERPRETATION: A substantial gender gap exists within this research institute. Participants identified strategies to address this gap, such as establishing transparent search processes, providing opportunities for informal networking and mentorship of female scientists and establishing institutional support for work-life balance.