Learning at Breakfast: Issues for Women FacultyDecember 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.