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Michigan Medicine

A Minute with Marschall

Learning at Breakfast: Issues for Women Faculty

December 16th, 2019

Over the last several months, I’ve hosted a series of faculty breakfasts. My goal was to connect with and learn from our faculty members from the basic science and clinical departments.

For the first few breakfasts, I wanted to learn more from our women faculty about their experiences – both the positives and their frustrations. This ties with our efforts to increase diversity broadly and to develop a strategy that will lead us to be more diverse at all levels. Women comprise a good percentage of our faculty, but at a leadership level, this number drops significantly.

 I learned a lot. First, despite all of our efforts, our climate is still not what we aspire to. For women, there is unconscious bias but also insufficient leadership opportunities and training in some areas. There are groups and departments that have developed and endorsed opportunities for women faculty, but this is not uniform across the medical school.

One of the group of mid-level and tenured faculty commented that we tend to fill diverse leadership roles primarily for retention purposes. A lot of heads nodded at this comment. This was a new thought for me, but it may well be true and, regardless, it is not how we want to be perceived. Interestingly, I know this is a broader perception from faculty — that the way to garner resources is to get a good offer at another institution. Carol Bradford, Executive Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Otolaryngology and Steve Kunkel, Executive Vice Dean for Research and Chief Scientific Officer are working with others to see how we can be much more proactive in supporting junior and mid-level faculty.

Dee Hunt, Chief Human Resources Officer, and Sonya Jacobs, Director of Faculty and Leadership Development, are leading an effort to be much more intentional in our leadership development programs. Although these efforts are just getting started and will undoubtedly morph, I’m excited about the work Dee,  Sonja and a large number of faculty and staff are doing in this area.

Many are also challenged with balancing their personal lives with their focus on developing their careers. In many instances, family responsibilities fall more squarely on women partners. Although I hadn’t really thought deeply about it, when we consider “work/life balance” and “burnout’” we have not differentiated women from men, old from young or other types of diversity. Kirk Brower, Chief Wellness Officer, has reached out to many groups to consider these issues more precisely. Think “precision” approaches to burnout and other challenges. As I commented in a prior op-ed, small things that we can easily accomplish, like being more flexible in work schedules, may make the world of difference to someone with child care needs.

Like many of our academic medical center peers, we have much work to do to better support women, underrepresented minorities, and general diversity in high-profile and leadership roles. Often, we primarily consider what’s “on paper” and past experience as markers of leaders, but this significantly limits us. If we also consider potential, open-mindedness, and softer leadership skills, like emotional intelligence and motivating others, we would probably find ourselves in a different situation.

I would welcome your thoughts on these issues as we continue to think about how we best benefit from the enormous talent in our faculty. 


  • When looking at work-life issues please also know that in addition to child care needs, many are also caring for their elderly parents. This issue will continue to grow as our population ages. Alternate schedules in these cases can give us a chance to be there to advocate for the health needs of those who gave their all for us when they were younger.
    I’m not a member of the Faculty, but an employee at Michigan Medicine and it gives me a lot of hope to know these discussions are happening at all levels. Thank you.

    • Marschall Runge

      Thank you for your comment, Melissa. Yes, work-life balance can be very difficult for those in the “sandwich generation” (those considered middle aged who find themselves caring for both children and their aging parents at the same time). As more couples delay raising children and seniors live longer (due to many advancements in our industry) this generation is expanding. I would encourage you or anyone who finds themselves in this situation to speak to their immediate supervisors about work-life flexibility options. U-M also has some amazing support programs and services for those caring for the elderly. You can view all the resources on this website:

  • Michigan Medicine has done a lot in recent years to improve gender equality but there is still a huge gap.
    We need to be more serious about equal pay for equal work, and equal opportunities for promotion and leadership through proactively identifying female faculty with the skills and experience and not just waiting for them to self-identify and self-promote.

    • I agree with you, Anna. We have made a lot of progress but we have so much further to go. I’m encouraged by the work that Dee and Sonya are doing in support of leadership development programs focused on women and Kirk’s deep dive into work-life issues which will have an impact on how both men and women manage their family life and avoid burn out. These are great steps forward, but we also need to pave the way for better pay and promotion opportunities for women. You and others can help move us forward by continuing to pose questions and raise concerns. We can’t resolve this century-old issue overnight but through joint understanding I believe that together we can begin to bridge the gap.

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