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ESMO W4O monitoring studies observe the evolution of the representation of female oncologists in prominent positions in different areas.

The aim is to provide objective information on gender equality in oncology. This creates the basis to inform the decisions of the ESMO W4O Committee in setting priorities and developing projects.

Women in Leadership

In 2015, the ESMO W4O monitoring study on female oncologists in leadership positions aimed to provide a better understanding of the representation of women invited to speak at international oncology congresses and nominated to societies’ boards, and how this picture has changed over the years.

The first set of results was published in ESMO Open in September 2018 in the paper Report on the status of women occupying leadership roles in oncology by Eva Hofstädter-Thalmann et al.

In 2018,  the study was launched again to update the findings, and it is now running longitudinally in circles of three years. The second set of results, analysing the years 2017-2019, was published in ESMO Open in October 2021 in the paper Female leadership in oncology—has progress stalled? Data from the ESMO W4O authorship and monitoring studies by Anna Sophie Berghoff et al. This paper summarises findings from both the Women in Leadership and Authorship studies.

This study involves several national and international oncology societies who are monitoring the situation of women oncologists in leadership positions.

Women in Authorship

The ESMO W4O authorship study, started in 2018, aims to monitor the representation of women as authors of publications in major oncology journals. It complements the W4O leadership study (above). Together, these studies provide a detailed picture of women in oncology, both in the clinic and in research.


The results of the ESMO W4O authorship and monitoring studies were published in the paper Female leadership in oncology—has progress stalled? Data from the ESMO W4O authorship and monitoring studies by Anna Sophie Berghoff et al.

They clearly showed that positions of power in oncology are still male-dominated, with female oncologists being under-represented in all leadership positions.

While a slightly upward trend was found in women being invited to present at oncology congresses (from 32% in 2017 to 37% in 2019) and as board members of professional oncology societies (from 30% to 36%), men continued to hold the majority of these roles, with findings suggesting that female representation at the top of the oncology field has hit a plateau.

In the field of research and academic literature similar figures were reported. For the entire period, women were less likely to be either first or last authors with respect to their male colleagues. At the same time, they were significantly more likely to be the first author (37-41%) than the last author (24-30%), suggesting that female researchers are still bounded to junior positions in the research field.

To sum up, these studies’ results demonstrate that progress towards gender equality in career development in oncology is real but slow, and certainly not sufficient to hope for gender equity to become a reality in the near future.

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