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Breaking the glass ceiling

The metaphorical ‘glass ceiling’ often refers to barriers that prevent marginalised people – including women and minority groups – from achieving career progression. Breaking this glass ceiling is about moving beyond these barriers, advancing to a place that others of similar origins or characteristics had previously struggled to reach.

There was traditionally a glass ceiling for women in dentistry, with fewer historically fulfilling roles of power in the field or reaching the same heights of recognition as their male counterparts. Back in the day, this was because women didn’t typically practise medicine or dentistry.

The first female dentist in the UK was Lillian Lindsay, who qualified in 1895. But it took a long time for a significant number of women to enter the profession. In 1937, 3.2% of registered dentists were female, rising to 12.8% in 1972. Even in 2000, only 32% of dentists were women.[i] The scales had begun to tip by 2019, when women made up just over half (50.2%) of the total number of dentists registered with the GDC. In December 2023, just under 53% of dentists were female,[ii] demonstrating modern trends.

Alongside Lillian Lindsay, another British woman that stands out in dental history is Eva Handley. After graduating in 1901, Eva worked at the Women’s Military Hospital in London and became well-known for her skill with dental extractions. According to the history books, Eva was one of the first women to be both medically and dentally qualified. Some of the women that followed were also instrumental in raising awareness about the importance of oral health – which had previously not been recognised at all. Helen Mayo, who worked in the early 1900s, and Mabel Inder, from around the same time, are both recorded for their contribution to this cause.

Since then, women have been making waves across the dental profession, providing significant contributions in all areas from clinical care to research and academia, teaching, lecturing and mentoring. Indeed, we at the ADI were delighted to welcome our first female President, Dr Eimear O’Connell, in 2019, recognising the outstanding impact she had on her patients and colleagues within the realm of implantology and beyond.

Moving forward, it is important that the ADI remains an inclusive and diverse organisation, and we are committed to supporting all our members in any way that we can. We are very proud to have so many female members and we actively encourage them to get involved with our committees and Board wherever they are interested in doing so. With regards to the education available, we are also looking forward to our ADI Masterclass in 2025, “A Female Perspective”, on 8 March at the Royal College of Physicians that is open to all ADI members – save the date to make sure you don’t miss out!

For now, we wish you a very happy International Women’s Day and here’s to breaking more glass ceilings in the near future!

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