Indian Journal of Dental Research

: 2020  |  Volume : 31  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 694--700

A qualitative research analysis of gender-based parities and disparities at work place experienced by female dentists of Vadodara, India

Ramya R Iyer1, Rajesh Sethuraman2, Medha Wadhwa3,  
1 Department of Public Health Dentistry, K M Shah Dental College and Hospital, Sumandeep Vidyapeeth, Vadodara, Gujarat, India
2 Department of Prosthodontics, K M Shah Dental College and Hospital, Sumandeep Vidyapeeth, Vadodara, Gujarat, India
3 Department of Management, Sumandeep Vidyapeeth, Vadodara, Gujarat, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Ramya R Iyer
Department of Public Health Dentistry, K. M. Shah Dental College and Hospital, Sumandeep Vidyapeeth, Vadodara


Aim: To assess the gender-based parities and disparities at work place experienced by female dentists of Vadodara, India. Materials and Methods: In-depth face-to-face qualitative semi-structured interviews in English were conducted among 12 female dentists of Vadodara. Female dentists working with one/more male colleague or auxiliary were selected through purposive sampling. Interviews were conducted as per Kvale's principles and recorded using a digital voice recorder. Transcribed data was analyzed using Giorgi's phenomenological analysis. Results: The recurring themes identified were: (a) Striking work–family balance (b) Dependence on male authority for instating work discipline (c) Male dentists' hostility to “woman in power” concept (d) Male dentists' superiority in technical skills (e) privileges for women dentists. Conclusions: There is a need to improve the work environment of women dentists. Social support, sensitivity among male colleagues, and generous institutional policies will enable increased contribution from women to the profession.

How to cite this article:
Iyer RR, Sethuraman R, Wadhwa M. A qualitative research analysis of gender-based parities and disparities at work place experienced by female dentists of Vadodara, India.Indian J Dent Res 2020;31:694-700

How to cite this URL:
Iyer RR, Sethuraman R, Wadhwa M. A qualitative research analysis of gender-based parities and disparities at work place experienced by female dentists of Vadodara, India. Indian J Dent Res [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 21 ];31:694-700
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Full Text


A perceptible shift has been observed in the gender demographics of dental profession. Globally, the scenario of dentistry is drifting to what a few researchers claim as “feminization of dental profession.” With increasing number of female enrolments in dental schools, there is an increased turnover of women general dental practitioners and specialists.[1] Women dentists are gearing up to take a greater responsibility in patient care and steering their way ahead to assume academic and administrative leadership roles. Presently, women are roving through a transient period where they are still trying to find their feet in the settings dominated by men. However, even in this progressive era, we cannot make guaranteed and candid clearance to issues like gender bias, sexual harassment, and maternity privileges at work place.[2]

It is hypothesized that work productivity of a woman dentist may be affected by prevailing gender parities and disparities at work place and exploitation of any nature—physical, psychological, or monetary. It is also hypothesized that gender gaps at various contexts form a great deal of sociological background of woman dentists' work culture. Dentist–patient relationship, inter-personnel relationships with colleagues/subordinates, work hours, and work satisfaction, etc., are inter-woven within this sociological framework.

In India, like in many parts of the world, there are two stories of women in dentistry—one of the advancement and the other of the barriers. After thorough exploration of literature, only one study conducted by Tandon S et al.[3] was found to throw light on status of women dentists. However, the study was restricted to women in academics and the study had quantitatively assessed outcomes. It is believed that qualitative research is a naturalistic, interpretative approach concerned with understanding the meanings which people attach to actions, decisions, beliefs, values, and the like within their social world. It is also useful in adding more information to existing knowledge about an area and is relevant where exploration of a phenomenon is of prime importance from a sociological context.[4]

Hence, the present study aimed to assess the gender-based parities and disparities at work place experienced by female dentists of Vadodara, Gujarat through qualitative research analysis. The objectives of the study were to:

To understand the current conditions of work environment of female dentists in the context of their role, dentist–patient relationship and inter-personnel relationships with colleagues and/or subordinatesTo explore the strengths and weaknesses of female dentists at professional front in the context of power, privileges in terms of health, monetary and emotional supportTo explore if there was any gender gap and safety issues at work place for female dentistsTo understand the essence of the phenomenon of how gender-driven intimidation could affect the female dentists' performance in profession.


The present study was designed as a qualitative research with phenomenological approach. Data was obtained through in-depth qualitative interviews of female dentists of Vadodara. The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of Sumandeep Vidyapeeth, Vadodara (Ref No. SVIEC/ON/DENT/RP/1510). Prior to the start of the study, eligible participants were informed about the purpose and scope of the study; informed consent was obtained from the participants. A purposive sampling method was used to select the required sample of female dentists from a sampling frame determined by saturation of concepts.

The selected participants were of varied ages, qualifications, specialization, work experience, work setting to ensure adequate representativeness. 12 female dentists (8 Specialists and 4 General Dental Practitioners of varied work experience and ages) were participating in this qualitative study involving in-depth interviews of the subjects. This was considered as adequate sample size in accordance to saturation of concepts which was expected in the present study. Morse (1995)[5] recommended at least six interviews for phenomenological approach. Creswell (1998)[6] recommended that a sample size of 5–25 was required, according to the nature of the study. A redundancy criterion could also be adopted, that is, to stop when no more new information is coming out. Furthermore, according to conclusions drawn in a systematic review conducted by Guest et al. (2006),[7] for studies with a high level of homogeneity, a sample of six interviews may be sufficient to enable development of meaningful themes and useful interpretations. Considering the nature of the present study, 12 interviews were considered to suffice for the needs. In the present study, all the approached subjects consented to participate in the present study.

The inclusion and exclusion criteria of the study were as follows:

Inclusion criteria

Female dentists in active practice and/or academic profession in VadodaraFemale dentists working with at least one male colleague and/or involved in direct interaction with male auxiliary staff (chair-side assistants, hygienist, lab technician, etc.)Female dentists with children/other family liabilities that require personal attention.

Exclusion criteria

Eligible informants who were not willing to participate in the studyFemale dentists not involved in direct interaction with male staff.

The interview was of a semi-structured type and was conducted according to Kvale's principles of interview for qualitative research.[8] An interview guide developed after thorough review of literature and informal conversations and inputs gained from female dentists who were not part of the study was used. The interview guide served to cover all relevant areas intended to be explored. Content validity, descriptive validity, and interpretive validity were strengthened through literature search and peer consultation, audio recording and interview notes, member checking and investigator triangulation procedures, respectively.[9] The interview was conducted by the single investigator (RI) for 45–60 min at the place of convenience of the participants—either at home or at work place, wherever they felt there would be the least disturbance. The principal investigator and interviewer (RI) approached the eligible participants of the study to provide the participant information sheet and obtain the informed consent, prior to the commencement of the study. However, the investigator maintained a neutral stand and no content pertaining to the subject of the study or the perceptions were entertained so as to keep the interview and responses authentic. The interview data was transcribed verbatim and the interviews were audio taped using digital audio voice recorder (Philips DVT3000/00 2GB Digital Voice Tracer).


The age of the included participants ranged from 30 to 55 years. The sample profile including professional and personal characteristics is described in [Table 1].{Table 1}

From the in-depth interview, female dentists' narratives were explored and documented for addressing the objectives of the study. After interviewing the 12 participants, no new area of inquiry was observed to surface; furthermore, repeated experiences were being documented leading to redundancy and data saturation. Hence, it was felt that no further enrolment of subjects for study would add any new or valuable information.

The responses of the participants to various areas under investigation are summarized as follows. The qualitative responses are presented in [Table 2].{Table 2}

Nature of work in dentistry and compatibility to the work from gender perspective

Most of the women dentists who were interviewed reported that the nature of work was suitable for women and they did not have any major compatibility issues [Table 2].

Are there any gender preferences by an employer?

Female dentists said that male dentists were preferred where technical expertise was important. A few of them told that female dentists were trusted more and hence had greater opportunities to be employed as junior dentist or assistant at private clinics [Table 2].

How do women dentists balance work and family?

Female dentists interviewed in this study reported that they knew how exactly to strike the balance between work and family. While the female dentists were working on perfect balance, majority of them said that if a situation might arise, they would always prioritize their family against work commitments [Table 2].

Do women colleagues feel that male colleagues are supportive?

Most of the interviewed female dentists felt that men were not sensitive to the problems of females. They said that men offered help reluctantly, that too only when asked to [Table 2].

What do women dentists feel about male counterpart's perceptions on “Women in Power”?

Most women felt that the “Women in Power” concept was not palatable to male counterparts. A few however felt that men had superiority or inferiority complexes. Female dentists stated that even subordinates did not recognize authority positions held by women, with a few exceptions [Table 2].

What are the patients' perceptions about female dentists?

Majority of the female dentists reported that patients respected and showed willingness to get treated by female dentists. They also felt that there has been a dramatic shift in the image of dentist and they were glad about the change. However, a few dentists were of the opinion that among the uneducated people, there were still disbeliefs that female dentists were nurses and not dentists in the true sense [Table 2].

Is work environment safe for women dentists?

All the interviewed dentists said that the work environment was safe. None of them reported of any incidents of sexual harassment or work place violence that occurred to them or their female colleagues [Table 2].

Do women dentists have maternity leaves and baby care benefits?

With respect to maternity leave, those employed with Government expressed that they had no worry about job security. However, the scenario seemed to be different with private employees where there was a potential threat of losing job in case of maternity leaves. Female dentists in private firms expressed that baby care benefits were not satisfactory and it was taxing to meet the demands of baby and work. Most of the institutions did not have baby care centers or facilities. There was no policy in place for the same and requests were sanctioned on the basis of applications [Table 2].

Are there any special professional privileges for women dentists?

The respondents informed that they were unaware of any research grants for women dentists. When asked if there was a need for reservation of posts for women in core committees of professional bodies, there were mixed responses [Table 2].

What empowers a woman dentist?

A plethora of attributes were mentioned by the women dentist that are said to inter-lace with her core competencies [Figure 1].{Figure 1}

Women dentists however believed that gender based intimidation at work place could however disrupt the empowerment process.

In their own words

“I cannot imagine working in such a hostile working environment”

“It may, It can. But actually it should not. It may make her feel that she is not competent enough.”

“It's such a bad thing but I believe if you are suffering, you need to call for help and raise your voice against it.”

What's the women dentists' forecast of their future?

All the interviewed women dentists were positive on a successful future and had a vision of greater roles and responsibilities to be played by them [Table 2].


The raw data was transformed into the essence of the phenomenon based on Giorgi's phenomenological analysis.[10] [Figure 2] describes the step-wise analysis procedure.{Figure 2}

Prior to the analysis, the authors RS and MK were briefed about their roles as transcriptionists and decoders in the present study. As codes were not fixed in priori, the decoders, independently, decoded the text data on emergent code basis, independently. At the end of independent decoding, synthesis of themes was done. Any differences between the decoders were resolved by consensus.

The following recurring themes were identified after analysis:

Striving to strike a work–family balanceDependence on male authority for work discipline among auxiliary staffMale dental professional's hostility to woman in power conceptMale dentists' superiority in technical aspects of dentistryNeed for privileges and facilities for women in personal and professional front.

The summary synthesized from qualitative analysis and the essence of the phenomenon so obtained has been illustrated in [Figure 3]a and [Figure 3]b.{Figure 3}


The present study assessed in-depth, the essence of the phenomena of gender-based parities and disparities at work place for women dentists.

In this study, the phenomenological analysis method has been used. It is a newer method and is an alternative to discursive psychological approach. The phenomenological approach has been used more commonly in health psychology researches. While the discursive approach emphasizes on the text per se, the phenomenological approach intends to understand people's lived experiences and the meanings to their experiences.[11]

The theme “Striving to achieve work–family balance” extracted from this study is also reported by similar studies conducted by Davidson S et al. (2012),[12] Murkami M et al. (2013)[13] and Rajeh M et al. (2014).[14]

The theme “Need for privileges in personal and professional front” extracted from this study is supported by the study conducted by Davis S (2005).[15]

In the present study none of the women reported that they enjoyed any research grants being a woman dentist. The Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India offers Grants to only those women scientists who were currently not working but had the qualification to pursue research. Working women dentists are not eligible for those grants. However, in developed nations, there are grants for women scientists. As per the European Union Data on Gender and Research Funding, Nordic countries are considered proactive, with policies that secure women's participation in research by encouraging grant applications from women, increasing numbers of women on review boards, and promoting funding transparency.[16]

The theme “hostility of male dentists to women in power concept” has also been reported by study conducted by Tandon S (2007)[3] on the barriers to women for leadership roles in Indian women in dental academics.

”Superiority of male dentists in technical aspects,” a theme extracted in the present study had not been reported in the literature till date. Hence no comparative analysis could be made.

Although the present study allowed the investigator to understand not just what was perceived but also gave clues to how and why of the phenomena in question, the study did have a few limitations. The study did not report on how same gender dentists and subordinates perceived about the informants. Repeat interviews which could have captured incidents, experiences, and feeling perceived over time could not be implemented in our study owing to short time-frame of the research. Video recording was not done and therefore non-verbal communications could not be documented. Furthermore, triangulation of methods which could have strengthened the validity of the study was not performed.


Female dentists in the present study did not report of serious concerns, viz., safety, sexual harassment, etc. However, there is a great scope to improve the work environment of women dentists. A self-less and humanitarian encouragement and support is warranted from male professional colleagues to make the work environment a better place for women. Institutional and family support systems will have to be more generous to help woman dentist contribute more to the profession. There is also a need for the female dentists to become competent in technical aspects of dentistry to practice independently with confidence. It is recommended that dentists and auxiliary staff be trained by professional bodies in the inter-personnel relationship front.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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