The Power of the False Positive

There has been debate over the role and perception of women in leadership in the PT profession. Unfortunately, the “perception” piece is hard to tack down. As Ian MacMurdie pointed out in a previous editorial, numbers speak when we look at women in leadership. There are, statistically speaking, a lot of women in leadership in the PT profession–equal to, if not more than men. So what’s the rub?


Let’s talk loud. Literally.

For a brief period of time from 2016 to 2017, I was tracking podcasts. I have a spreadsheet where I diligently recorded the podcast, the guest and the topic. This was about a year and a half ago, so there were about 5-7 major PT podcasts, not 3,000, making this a much more manageable task. At the time, the intent was to ensure that I was scheduling a diverse range of guests, not just those who had “made the rounds.” However, when Karen Litzy held her first Women in PT Summit in November 2016, I grew curious. Were men really louder than women? In this case, the term “louder” actually refers to “are you hearing them on a podcast more frequently?” So I painstakingly counted the number of men guests, the number of women guests, and ran the percentages. (I only counted everyone once–if a guest had appeared more than once on a podcast, they only got a count of 1).


Guess what?


The highest percentage of women guests on a podcast over that 6-7 month period was 35%. Ironically, UpDoc Media’s podcast, Therapy Insiders, which hosted Karen to chat about this exact issue, was rocking the lowest percentage at a puny 14%.

This is where the mismatch hit home. Hypothetically, if women make up half the profession, and we agree that they’re experts and leaders, shouldn’t that percentage be 50%?

Of course, let’s take a step back and acknowledge the extenuating circumstances: some parts of our profession are dominated by one gender (ahem, #pelvicmafia) due to the nature of the work. (Want more food for thought? There was an interesting article in the LA Times about the shift in OB-GYN medicine to mostly women practitioners.) But if we’re searching for experts on neuro PT, on orthopedics, what then? Right now, it seems like we’re picking the person who marketed themselves best. The loudest. And giving them a louder voice. Is that bad? I would say yes, if picking the loudest means we’re failing to highlight the true depth and expertise of the profession.


What’s the solution? (Wait, have we figured out the problem yet?)

It’s hard to think of solutions when many would say we don’t have a problem. However, there are three that are commonly tossed around:

  1. Women need to be louder about promoting themselves.
  2. Men need to promote women.
  3. Men need to be quieter.

Solutions #1 & #2 put the onus of change on one gender. Solution #2 seems to be the middle ground, similar to Emma Watson’s #HeForShe movement, but still puts the majority of the work on men. (Did I almost write “blame”? I did.)


A 4th option

I would like to propose a 4th solution: challenge yourself to be more discerning. Ask people who the expert is. Don’t assume. Everyone wants to interview K-Starr, but who influences him? I’ve lost the illusion that any one person is an expert. My favorite thing to hear in response to a question is “You know who you need to talk to….”.

The 4th solution is a personal challenge: Push the boundaries of your own echo chamber (we all have them). Check your own numbers. Ask yourself if you really feel you have explored all sides of an issue, or really sought differing opinions. 

The Journal of Orthopedics & Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) recently released a viewpoint: “Benefits and Threats to Using Social Media for Presenting & Implementing Evidence.” Authors Cook et al made that point that one of the threats to disseminating research on social media is that people might just not be qualified. They provided 4 different subtypes of social media users:

    • True positive: someone with a highly visible social media profile & high publication record
    • False positive: someone with a highly visual social media profile but low publication record
    • False negative: someone with a low visual social media profile but high publication record
    • True negative: someone with a low visual social media profile and low publication profile

I’d argue that this same dichotomy applies to, well, anyone online. Is the loud person the most qualified? Are they the false positive or the true positive? Don’t let them distract you with their marketing materials, their very active Twitter account, and their oodles of followers. Don’t discount people because you’ve never heard of them (it’s always the quiet ones).

So what’s next for you? Will you take up the challenge? How will you change how you interact? Will you consider it? It might be time.

Check out the first in this series: Perception vs Reality: Why Women in PT Really Matters

Rachel Jermann, PT, DPT, founder and president of Talus Media, loves hunting for PT news and broadcasting it. Also, Ben & Jerry’s.  Find her on Twitter here.