This article originally appeared in the October/2021 issue of the Academy of General Dentistry’s AGD Impact magazine.
Women in dentistry: Challenges and opportunities
By: Jackie Ulasewich Cullen
Women are making their mark in every traditionally male-dominated industry, from finance to space travel, and definitely in dentistry. Where just a decade ago about 24% of all dentists were women, now that figure is closer to 35%, and women graduating from dental school nearly equal the number of men¹. While this is an excellent sign that the dental field is moving towards gender parity, the journey is far from over. The unfortunate truth is that women dentists still earn less on average than their male counterparts and often face other challenges that men do not¹.
In general, it is still “a man’s world” from a professional standpoint. Even though women have made tremendous strides in all areas of the workforce, men are still the majority when it comes to leadership. Dentistry is no exception, where women are woefully underrepresented in leadership, academically and professionally. The reason for this? Well, it’s complicated and not always cut and dried. However, one thing is clear: in this day and age, some women are still expected to pull most of the weight at home, which makes advancing their careers as professionals more challenging. Whereas most men can take advantage of traditional networking and marketing opportunities, some women may be more reluctant to do so because they take on more of the home and family responsibilities². Additionally, mentorship opportunities may not be as abundant for women as they are for men. Finding female dental professionals who are willing and able to share their valuable experience and marketing advice with their female colleagues can be difficult precisely because there are so few women in leadership positions.
Fortunately, as we progress as a society and the professional gender gap begins to shrink, men are also starting to understand the value that women bring to the workforce. The prevailing thought is no longer, “you are taking a man’s place” — there is much more acceptance and professional respect. However, women definitely still feel the pressure of home life more than men do, and that can be a big hurdle to owning a practice.
Gender bias is also a problem and can create issues for women in professional practice. Not only does gender bias influence how potential patients perceive a woman dentist, it can also influence the way the dentist sees herself and how she advertises her practice. Often women are hesitant to emphasize how they are different from their male counterparts, instead feeling compelled to try to assimilate to the status quo.
Thankfully, though, as a society, we are becoming more inclusive and accepting of women in dentistry, embracing the differences between men and women, acknowledging that each has something to contribute to the profession. However, when a particular field has been dominated by men for nearly 150 years, eliminating bias and other issues altogether is no easy task. Fortunately, women are entering the dental field and supporting each other through professional and networking groups, as well as mentorship programs.
In addition, there are now more opportunities in marketing for women dentists. Where being a woman may have once been considered a drawback in dentistry, now it can be marketed as a strength. Because women are more likely to be juggling home and family responsibilities along with their professional practice, they are often more organized and learn to manage their time more effectively³. This means they can typically be more focused and driven when it comes to perfecting their craft and growing their business. It is also true that women are generally viewed as being gentler than men, which is a real plus in the dental field, where so many patients experience dental anxiety. Women dentists have a reputation for being more empathetic towards their patients and tend to spend more time with them³. That can make a difference from a marketing standpoint and should be highlighted when focusing on your website copy, social media presence and another other form of marketing you are doing for your practice.
When it comes to digital marketing, women tend to come across as more relatable, than men, especially in videos. Precisely because women are perceived to be more empathetic and trustworthy, social media marketing can be a real boon for women dentists. It is a platform where their natural personalities can shine through and where they can reach out to existing and potential patients on a more personal level and start to build trust.
Women dentists don’t need to heavily rely on “non-traditional” marketing channels—such as after-hours networking groups or service organizations that require a ton of time and potentially little results—rather they can highlight their attributes to their patients through digital marketing, and they can certainly compete at the same level as men, and even surpass them.
While it is true that challenges still exist for women in dentistry, more and better opportunities are opening up for women overall, and it is up to us to take advantage of them without hesitation. With the digital age well underway, new and different marketing channels help make the dental profession much more of a level playing field for women. Plus, there are many more supporting organizations available exclusively for women than ever before. Perhaps the most promising signs are the numbers of women who continue to choose dentistry as their lifelong career. As this trend continues to grow, the challenges women face in the dental field will continue to diminish.
- Versaci, Mary Beth. “HPI: Women make up growing percentage of dental workforce”. ADANews, March 30, 2021, https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2021-archive/march/women-make-up-growing-percentage-of-dental-workforce
- Syrop, Jackie. “Talking With Women Who Are Forging New Paths In Dentistry”. Inside Dentistry, Vol. 16:2, Feb. 2020, https://www.aegisdentalnetwork.com/id/2020/02/talking-with-women-who-are-forging-new-paths-in-dentistry
- Needham, Stephanie. “The shifting paradigm of dentistry: The predominance of women”. Dental Economics, May 1, 2017. https://www.dentaleconomics.com/macro-op-ed/article/16389709/the-shifting-paradigm-of-dentistry-the-predominance-of-women