Diversity in healthcare – why are we still talking about it?


It is neither fair nor smart for workplaces to have an apathetic attitude to diversity and gender equality. So why are we still talking about these issues when the Australian Sex Discrimination Act, which aimed to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status and pregnancy for both men and women, was passed over 30 years ago, in 1984?

There is a roughly equal number of men and women in this world, and an equal number of men and women are medical students. In Australia, only five per cent of orthopaedic surgeons are female (Australian Orthopaedic Association 2017); in the UK, three per cent (Bucknall and Pynsent 2009); and in the USA, six per cent (Brotherton and Etzel 2012). We know that women are certainly not less qualified than men, so these figures raise two questions: what are the barriers that prevent more women from selecting orthopaedic surgery as a career – and is meritocracy flawed?

Over the last few years there has been a dialogue regarding the ratio of male to female AOA members, including those participating in the training program. Further, it is important to note that currently no women serve on the AOA Board as voting members.

The business of saving lives and relieving suffering can only improve when every member of the talent pool participates. An orthopaedic workforce of the future reflects the diverse patient population it serves; one that is inclusive of both sexes will be best equipped to provide breakthrough treatments and innovations for each and every individual.

To begin addressing the issue of diversity in orthopaedics, it was proposed by the Orthopaedic Women’s Link (OWL) committee, and agreed with the full support of the Board, that a diversity strategy be developed to assist with addressing diversity and gender equality issues in orthopaedic surgery in Australia. This action supports the growing body of social science research that shows that organisations that put someone in charge of diversity have stronger records of attracting qualified individuals from under-represented groups (Plaut 2014).

If you would like to contribute to or be involved in the development of the diversity strategy, please email Fellowships and Research Manager Susie Obeid at susie.obeid@aoa.org.au or contact an OWL representative:

  • NSW: Michelle Atkinson, Chair
  • NSW: Kerin Fielding
  • ACT: Katherine Gordiev
  • WA: Kate Stannage
  • VIC/TAS: Annette Holian
  • SA: Nicole Williams/Linda Ferris
  • QLD: Sarah Watts
  • Trainee Representative: Rekha Ganeshalingam

An orthopaedic workforce of the future reflects the diverse patient population it serves; one that is inclusive of both sexes will be best equipped to provide breakthrough treatments and innovations for each and every individual.