In the United States, the number of women entering the dental profession continues to grow. As we celebrate both National Dentist’s Day and International Women’s Day in March, we’re taking this opportunity to recognize the gender disparity in dentistry and celebrate the differences women bring to the industry.
We know female representation in dentistry is on the rise: The percentage of female graduates from dental school reached an even split with male graduates, with women rising from 46% of graduates in 2009 to 50.6% in 2019, according to data from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute (HPI).
This has led to a significant leap in female representation in dentistry. Female dentists made up 34.5% of all dentists in 2020, a more than 10% jump from 24.1% in 2010. HPI experts also estimate that the female share of the U.S. dentist workforce will increase from 34.5% in 2020 to 49.4% in 2040.
“It is so encouraging to see more women enter into the dental workforce,” said Dr. Amber Bonnaig, DentaQuest’s dental director in Georgia. “Year after year, more women are enrolling in and graduating from dental school and I’m excited to be witnessing a shift in the composition of the field to be a more inclusive one.”
Though the gender split may be shrinking, other factors remain stagnant. According to a study from 2020, women in the dental workforce were more likely to be employees, rather than practice owners, in comparison to men, and also more likely to be part-time workers. When women did have their own solo practice, they were also more likely to provide pediatric dental services and take patients covered by government insurance.
Historically, the dentistry pay gap between men and women has also been remarkably wide, even after accounting for factors like hours worked, experience and ownership. In 2017, The Journal of The American Dental Association (JADA) found that dentistry has the most pronounced pay gap between men and women at 40%. To put that into perspective, the nationwide overall pay gap between men and women in 2020 was 16%. While experience and seniority levels come into play when considering pay, an additional JADA study found that more than 60% of the gap between male and female dentists is unexplained by other factors.
The increasing number of women in dentistry highlights the interest is there, but also shines a light on the need for professional pathways to help women pursue long-term careers in the field. Within clinical care, there is great opportunity to expand female leadership, from owning businesses to holding management positions.
The same is likely true beyond clinical care, especially following a period of struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst COVID-19, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a record number of women exited the workforce in 2020, with many citing childcare as their primary reason for leaving.
That’s why DentaQuest is continuing to support our female employees in a variety of ways, including programs like the Women Empowered at DentaQuest (WE@DQ) employee resource group (ERG), as well as ensuring flexible schedules and work-from-home opportunities.
“It’s important to provide women with resources, opportunities and spaces to thrive,” said Vidya Baliga, a director in operations at DentaQuest and co-leader of WE@DQ. “This means putting company efforts and funds toward creating an environment where women can come together and share their experiences. It means proactively prioritizing women as an emerging group of the dentistry workforce.”
“It is our duty as a trusted employer to support our team members to be their best selves both professionally and personally,” said Roxanne Martinez, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at DentaQuest. She is dedicated to investing in initiatives that build confidence among women and encourage career growth, as well as providing female staff with the tools they need to succeed.
Even though there is still a long way to go, let’s celebrate that women’s representation in the dental workforce is better than it has ever been before. Happy International Women’s Day to the incredible women at DentaQuest and thank you for your contributions. To learn more about International Women’s Day, visit https://www.internationalwomensday.com/.
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