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A chilling effect of #MeToo in academic medicine

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Here’s this week’s Second Opinion, a roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

It’s a hashtag powerful enough to take down Hollywood’s elite.

While the #MeToo movement has officially been around for more than a decade, the campaign really took off a year ago this week, when the New York Times published its investigation into movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Since then, hundreds of women have levelled accusations of sexual misconduct against a growing list of high-profile men.

And while #MeToo has ended, or at least sidelined, the careers of some household names, it also has unintended chilling consequences on women seeking careers in the medical profession, a new commentary says.

A commentary published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that very same hashtag is also creating a « culture of fear » in academic medicine, scaring off men from mentoring women.

Backlash is ‘hostile sexism’

« Some men in positions of power now say they are afraid to participate in mentoring relationships with women, » reads the commentary, penned by six Canadian scientists — all women working in the fields of medical research and education.

« Men say they fear false allegations of sexual misconduct that could compromise their reputations and end their careers, even if they were found to be innocent. »

The authors describe this #MeToo backlash as « hostile sexism » because it punishes women by withdrawing mentorship opportunities from those who challenge the status quo.

« Mentorship for women was never that great.… But now there’s a deliberate withdrawal of mentorship that we found very troubling, » said Sophie Soklaridis, the commentary’s lead author and a scientist at the Toronto-based Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Harvey Weinstein is escorted in handcuffs to a courtroom in New York on July 9. The #MeToo movement really took off a year ago, when the New York Times published its investigation into the movie mogul. But now a commentary says the movement has unintended chilling consequences on women seeking medical careers. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Increasingly, she says, #MeToo is being used as an excuse for men not to mentor women. Mentoring in medical circles is a big deal, with academic doctors having a « professional and moral obligation to mentor the next generation of medical professionals, » the commentary says.

Not doing so would have serious consequences on a woman’s career trajectory, says Soklaridis, noting that it makes all the difference if you have someone that takes you under their wing, and opens the door to opportunities and advancement. « When women are not on the radar, it limits their opportunities for these kinds of advancements, » she said.

It also comes when there are more women than men enrolled in medical schools in Canada and the U.S., yet women only account for 16 per cent of medical school deans and 15 per cent of department heads at teaching hospitals.

The authors fear denying access to mentoring relationships will perpetuate this gender gap.

The commentary was based on a number of years’ worth of academic literature and articles about mentorship and fear. Soklaridis and her colleagues also relied on anecdotal evidence, she said. « The things that I’ve heard [retired] men say is, ‘Oh, I’m so glad I don’t have to do this anymore because it’s just become so complicated,' » she said.

Studying the gender gap

Dr. Sharon Straus, a professor with the University of Toronto’s medicine department, has heard similar stories. She was not involved in the current commentary, but she studied the gender gap in teaching hospitals and wrote an editorial on the #MeToo movement in medicine  this year. « I don’t think it’s a new fear, » Straus said. « I think that the #MeToo movement has raised more awareness of this and people have talked about it a little bit more. »

Some of that comes from individuals who question whether they’re comfortable mentoring people of different genders, she said. In one of her studies looking at gender equity in academic medicine, some of the men interviewed said they treated their male and female mentees differently because of concerns around how the relationship might be perceived.

Her own experience with a male mentor was positive, Straus said, and the pair ended up writing a book on the subject of mentorship — « one of the last things we did before he died. »

Mentorship « is really about being a decent human being, and about treating people equitably, and making sure that we’re behaving professionally, » she said. « And I think the #MeToo movement has highlighted that. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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