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Stemming the ‘Leaky Pipeline’: an investigation of the relationship between work–family conflict and women’s career progression in academic medicine


Background Even though women outnumber men enrolled in medical school, making up 59% of entrants in the UK, they are significantly under-represented in academic medicine and senior positions. In the UK, 28.6% of academics overall are women. In the USA, while 51% of instructors are women, only 20% make it through the ‘leaky pipeline’ to become professors. One attributable factor is work–family conflict. The purpose of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between work–family conflict and women’s career progression in academic medicine, and to provide a model to inform and change perceptions and practice in order to improve the ‘leaky pipeline’.

Methods A systematic literature search was performed to identify qualitative studies which investigated this relationship. Studies were critically appraised, and data were analysed using thematic analysis. Themes identified in the data were used to develop a model to build on the understanding of this issue.

Findings The findings of this research highlighted two main themes, one related to perceptions of gender (intrinsic or extrinsic), the way it impacts on work–family conflict and its relationship to women’s career progression. The second theme relates to structures which hinder or support women’s ability to have work–life balance. A model was developed that represents the inter-relationship between these factors.

Interpretation Changes in both organisational culture and individuals’ perception in regard to gender roles, especially of those in leadership, are necessary to create an environment where the best talent in academic medicine is selected regardless of gender.

  • career
  • career path
  • senior medical leader

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no data sets generated and/or analysed for this study. Not applicable as no primary data generated.

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