Diversity in German-speaking medical ethics and humanities

Diversity in German-speaking medical ethics and humanities

Original Research

Open Access. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. Published online 07 November 2022.

Amelia Fiske & Stuart McLennan

Bioethics can play an important role in addressing diversity both in and outside of academia, setting precedents for meaningful contributions to public discourse, research, teaching, training, and policy development. However, in order to do so, these conversations also need to reflect on the issue of diversity within the field of bioethics across the globe. This study aims to examine current gender representation and diversity at medical ethics and humanities institutes in Germany, the German-speaking areas of Switzerland, and Austria.
A total of forty-nine medical ethics and humanities institutes from Germany (n=42), the German-speaking areas of Switzerland (n=5), and Austria (n=2) were included in the study. Institutes websites were reviewed in the first week of March 2021 and the details of each staff member listed on the website recorded.
Overall, a total of 964 staff members were identified at the forty-nine German-speaking medical ethics and humanities institutes. Just over half (530/964; 55%) of all staff were female. There were significant differences between gender in some staff positions: 64.6 per cent (31/48) of directors were male (χ2(1)=4.1, P=.04); 62.7 per cent (84/134) of student assistants were female (χ2(1)=8.6, P=.003); and 83.7 per cent (77/92) of administrative staff were female (χ2(1)=41.8, P<.001). There were no significant differences between staff gender for researchers and lecturers, or associated researchers. In addition, 65.5 per cent (19/29) of researchers and lecturers who had a professor title were male, but the difference between genders was not found to be significant. However, significantly more of the researchers and lecturers who had completed a habilitation were male (75.8% (25/33); χ2(1)=8.8, P=.003). When comparing the institute director’s gender presentation with staff gender presentation, it was found that male-led institutes had 53.4 per cent (286/536) female staff overall but had 52.7 per cent (136/258) male researchers and lecturers. However, the difference between genders were not found to be significant. On the other hand, female-led institutes had significantly more female staff overall (59.9% (223/372); χ2(1)=14.7, P<.001) and also significantly more female researchers and lecturers (58.9% (119/202; χ2(1)=6.4, P=.01).
There has been a significant push to address gender diversity in German-speaking academia, and this study finds overall good gender parity in medical ethics and humanities institutes. However, there has not been a similar openness to discussing issues of systemic racism or how other forms of inequality affect academic diversity. Taking diversity seriously requires opening up conversations around intersectionality, including difficult conversations around race and cultural background that have long been taboo in German-speaking countries.

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