Field of Science

Women in Science: an Example of Roadblocks

It's exciting times in our Medical School. We recently completed a Strategic Plan entitled Strategic Vision 2025 and we hired a new Dean. There are numerous problems at the university medical school, but these are off-set (in part) by the many strengths of the medical school.
Our new dean has embraced the Strategic Plan and had a Town Hall meeting this last summer to outline in broad terms 6 goals to be addressed in the next year (some are of course longer term goals, but can be started sooner rather than later). These goals line up well with those outlined in the Strategic Plan, although the Dean has put them in a context he finds most compelling.

The 6 goals are to:

  1. Increase scholarship
  2. Increase NIH ranking
  3. Improve diversity
  4. Merge the diverse health systems
  5. Reduce medical student debt
  6. Increase financial resources
In the format of a town hall, there was little time to get into specifics of how each goal will be reached. However, the two approaches to improve diversity were striking to me in their focus. First the issue of diversity is readily backed up with data, this can not be ignored as simply an issue of 'political correctness.' As a percentage of the state population, minorities are underrepresented in the medical school faculty as are women. Half the state population is female and, not surprisingly, half of the assistant professors in the medical school are women. However, there is a precipitous drop in the percentage of women being promoted to associate and full professor such that 30% of associate professors are women and 10% of full professors are women. 

This begs the standard question, why is there a discrepancy?

Two general answers to this question come to mind. 1, there is a problem with the women that are hired such that they are unable to be successfully promoted; 2. there is a problem with the administration that, at least subconsciously, fails to promote women.

During said town hall meeting two ideas were presented to improve diversity within the medical school faculty. First, we need to have more mentoring to improve the success of our female faculty. Second, we need to have workshops to facilitate female involvement in various collegiate activities.

These two ideas suggested one thing to me: the administration believes the reason women are not being promoted is because of the women.

I am a huge supporter of mentoring, for everyone, at all levels, but I wonder why mentoring is specifically pointed out here. Are women not being mentored, but men are? If so, then this is an administration problem not a women problem. Are the women we hire in special need of mentoring that the men do not need? If so, then this is an administration problem not a women problem, because we are clearly not hiring high quality well trained women. The same arguments can be made for the workshops. Maybe the men are getting this extra information in the locker room or over cocktails after work when the women are not around. Regardless, this is an administration issue and not a women issue.

What struck me at this town hall was the focus was on 'fixing' the women so they could be promoted, not 'fixing' the administration such that women were not overlooked and ignored.

I couldn't help but wonder what the women faculty in the audience of that town hall thought. Not growing up in an environment where I was implicitly considered lesser based on my gonads, I couldn't help but think they would be insulted. But maybe they are used to it.

'How It Works' via xkcd