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Student Laura Quintana analyzes the situation of women in the dental field
The number of women graduating from degree programmes in Dentistry has increased exponentially compared to last century. However, despite the growing number of female dentists, there is still a great divide in the sector regarding the number of professional women in positions of responsibility. Student Laura Quintana’s Final Degree Project explores the situation women face in the sector and proposes solutions on how to remedy this imbalance.
During the late twentieth century, figures of female graduates rose from 2-2.5% in the 1950s, to 20-40% in 2000. However, despite the growing number of female dentists, there is still a great divide in the sector regarding the number of professional women in positions of responsibility. How can we remedy this disparity? Student Laura Quintana’s Final Degree Project explores the situation women face in the sector and proposes solutions on how to remedy this imbalance.
1. How would you describe the situation faced by women in dentistry over the course of the twentieth century?
Two words: perseverance and tenacity. I think it was very difficult for women to make space for themselves in the scientific world, or “man’s world”, at that time. But thanks to incredibly courageous and pioneering women such as Lucy Beaman Hobbs (the first qualified female dentist), we now have a seat at the scientific table.
2. You say that you think it is important to explain what kinds of situations women are facing in the world of dentistry. Why?
It is important to show the world where we are. To know where we want to go, we must first know where we are coming from. Only then can we improve and change the situation; and there is always room for improvement. Both women and men need to do what we can to achieve a more balanced sector, more gender parity, and therefore eliminate the infamous “glass ceiling”. Sometimes, the only way of proving there is inequality, is by showing society statistics and research that reflect this imbalance.
3. What did you think were the most striking results from your research?
One of the most striking results was to see that since 2012, the statistics regarding licensed dentists have shifted in favour of female dentists, a trend that has continued until today. But unfortunately, these numbers do not correlate with the figures regarding women in positions of responsibility. For the moment, there have only been two female deans of faculties of dentistry in universities across Spain.
4. What improvements need to be made in the sector?
In my opinion, above all, we must try to balance these positions of leadership more globally. From the research I have done for my Final Degree Project, I have seen that it is not just a problem in Spain, but around the world. We are still at a point where men “take centre stage” and women are just secondary characters. I hope that one day we can achieve parity and that no one gender has any great advantage over another.
5. How do you think these matters of inequality can be solved?
Collaboratively. It is not something one person can do alone. Society must join forces participate as one. First, we have to open our eyes and see the problem, and then look for a solution. The main problem is that there are people who do not recognise, or even that still do not see that this inequality. Both men and women have to shift our social and cultural mentality 180o. Only after eliminating recurrent gender stereotypes can we make start to make small but progressive changes.
6. What are the main obstacles faced by women who want to ascend to positions of responsibility in the dentistry sector?
I think the main obstacles for women, or reasons why they cannot assume positions of responsibility, are that many face discriminations and feel the need to demonstrate their competence and ability to their male colleagues, which creates additional pressure that makes it very difficult to execute this position successfully. Also, other articles have shown that the absence of female role models discourages other women who would potentially be interested in the position. Finally, a woman's family and maternal role is one of the main reasons they are not chosen for positions of power that demand longer working hours.
7. How did you come to realise that this problem exists?
I have witnessed this imbalance since I was young, but while I was writing my Final Degree Project, I came to realise that it goes much deeper than I first thought. It is really interesting to read.
8. What is the situation like for women at UIC Barcelona? What has been the most striking data you have seen in your study?
Since the 2001/2002 academic year, UIC Barcelona has graduated more women than men. We only have data from the 2002/2003 academic year regarding master’s degrees, but there is also a stronger female trend. I believe that we are beginning to see change at UIC Barcelona, and hopefully we will see greater gender parity over the coming years. Currently almost all positions of leadership, such as area managers, are occupied by men. It seems that among teaching staff, the numbers are more balanced and there is greater gender parity, so we can only hope to see this shift reflected in positions of responsibility.
What surprised me most as I collected data on UIC Barcelona, was that from day one, more female dentists than male dentists have graduated from master's degrees.
9. Which specialisms do female dentists tend to opt for? Why do you think this is?
There is a clear female majority in Master’s degrees in paediatric dentistry and orthodontics, whilst others (Master's Degree in Oral Surgery; Endodontics or Periodontology, for example) are beginning to balance out. I think more women tend to choose paediatric dentistry due to the connection they have with children and their protective instinct, but I still have to confirm my data with a psychologist. Orthodontics is more related to tasks where there is no blood. It is a less ‘aggressive’ job.
10. Your Final Degree Project is a continuation of Dr Sandra Fernández and Dr María Arregui’s research. What lessons can we learn from their research? What how does your project build on this discussion?
The doctors gathered data on graduates from between the 2001/2002 and 2018/2019 academic years, and compared it with the percentage of lecturers by gender.
They noted that male lecturers are still more prevalent, but that over the last ten years, we have almost reached a point of parity. Their research shows that there is a greater balance among teaching staff at UIC Barcelona, as well as a more predominant female trend in dentistry.
My project will gather data from UIC Barcelona’s master’s and postgraduate degrees, by stratifying the predominance of certain specialisations by gender, and the objective and psychological motives. It will also stratify positions of responsibility in Spanish universities by gender and explain the possible reasons behind why women reject positions of greater responsibility from a psychological and educational point of view. We will also be able to observe the growth of licensed dentists in terms of gender over the past ten years, thanks to information obtained from the General Spanish Society of Dentists and the INE (Spanish National Institute of Statistics). Finally, I will consider possible strategies that might help balance gender parity and look at how to increase the number of women in positions of responsibility.