The XX Factor

Nov 10, 2016 9:30 AM

We’ve still got a long way to go in supporting women in science and medicine. Nationwide, only 20 percent of assistant professors in STEM and medical colleges are women. And pay inequity is alive and well; A recent study of New England researchers found that male scientists received more than 2.5 times the startup funding than their female counterparts did.

We’re committed to moving in the right direction through inclusive hiring committees, mentoring programs, pay equity report cards and recognition:

Role Models Wanted

If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Impactful role models for women are other women, like themselves, who have successfully overcome gender-related barriers. If you want more women in leadership positions then you need to already have women in leadership positions at every level. Also, by increasing the visibility of women in leadership, you provide role models for the next generation. 

Mentors Needed

When it comes to mentors, more is always better than none. Mentors can be found through formal programs, such as the NIH’s BIRCWH and WRHR or the University of Utah’s VPCAT programs, or informal networking events. Mentors can be assigned by the department or found by the researcher herself. It is helpful for newly hired faculty to be assigned a mentor by their department until they have developed their own campus networks. Male mentors can show female researchers how to succeed in academia while female mentors can show them how to survive; both perspectives are helpful. 

We Need a Little Help Here

Female junior faculty cannot do research at an academic medical center without institutional and departmental support. Departments must show that they value research and allow faculty protected time to do their research. Having infrastructure within the department to provide administrative and grant support, such as the OBGYN Research Network at the University of Utah, can benefit all researchers. 

Junior faculty also have different needs based on their years of employment. Newly hired faculty need assistance setting up their research programs while Year 3-5 faculty need help sustaining their research programs. Academic medical centers should tailor their support to address issues at each phase. Specific support needs that institutions can address are: 

Redefining Productivity
Productivity based only on the number of clinical hours or grants submitted does little to drive research or innovation. It should be more than counting up line items on a resume. Productivity can include traditional targets but should also take a broader view of faculty contributions to the department’s research goals.
Leveling the Paying Field
There can be large differences in startup packages and salaries across an institution. Lack of funding for staff or resources at the beginning of a career can have a big impact on productivity. Differences in salaries, between male and female researchers can contribute to women leaving academic medicine. Increasing salary transparency and standardizing startup packages can make sure that female and male researchers start on equal footing. Salary transparency will also help female clinicians and post-doctoral fellows during contract negotiations.  
Hiring and Not Firing
With the current state of research funding, institutions need to be creative in finding ways to meet their research and teaching needs. Faculty doesn’t always fit into a tenure track or a research track. Creating new employment structures that match faculty skillsets with their interests will meet the needs of faculty and the institution, providing a better education for students. Also, with the high costs of recruiting and training new faculty, academic medical centers can’t afford to lose faculty. Institutions should be creatively thinking of ways, such as moving faculty to other departments, to keep faculty in the institution. 
Creating Communities
Institutions should provide female researchers with formal and informal networking opportunities that bring women together and enable them to create their own communities of support. Female researchers often miss out on networking opportunities, and career advancement as a result, because they were not included in male-dominated events or were not able to attend due to family obligations. 
Prepping the Next Generation
Residents and post-doctoral fellows exist in their own clinical and laboratory bubbles and often aren’t prepared for faculty research positions. Post-doctoral fellowships should include training in day-to-day laboratory management skills. Clinical residents often aren’t exposed to research during their clinical training. Research training should be a part of the curriculum throughout their education so clinicians will be able to evaluate current research for their patients and seek out opportunities to do research if they’re interested.

Stop Trying to Fix the Women

There are still subconscious biases, from men and women, which impact the ability of women to be successful researchers. For academic medical centers to increase the number of female researchers, there needs to be a culture change. We need to stop thinking of female researchers in relation to male researchers and start thinking of women as female researchers in their own right. There needs to be a recognition of the inherent value of having both genders, and their different perspectives, at an institution.

Read about 12 of our brightest young investigators–who just happen to be women–making incredible discoveries. 


By: Kirstin Roundy