Spring/Summer 2002

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The Dean Ponders Gender Equity

By Edward D. Miller, M.D.

Edward D. Miller, M.D. When I attended medical school—back before the invention of electric light bulbs—my class of 70 medical students included just four women. Today, women make up close to 50 percent of the students at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

It therefore came as a jolt when the Women's Leadership Council at the School of Medicine presented me with data showing there had been no change in the overall proportion of women on the medical faculty at Hopkins in more than 10 years. True, of the 1,611 people on the Hopkins Medicine faculty, more than 500 now are women. But those 500 + women comprise just 30 percent of the faculty, a number hardly representative of the ratio of women to men among the students we teach. Of even more concern was the fact that the percentage of female full professors at the School stands at the same 11 percent as it did 10 years ago.

I was frankly surprised to learn these statistics. It seemed to me that department directors had made a big effort to hire female faculty. I had personally worked to create an ambiance at Hopkins in which women faculty would feel welcome. We'd put in a day care center—clearly an important step in retaining and recruiting faculty women because it allows them to have their children near their work. We'd spent a lot of money on safety to give women a sense of security and comfort as they came and went at all hours. We offer a very rich benefits package—something women care a great deal about. And in putting together search committees, my office has made certain to include women and minorities.

But numbers don't lie. And what I learned was that even though almost half of the new M.D.s coming out of medical schools are female, we weren't drawing sufficiently on that part of the talent pool in our hiring or in our promoting.

Helping correct the gender balance at Hopkins now has become a personal challenge for me. There are ways in which a dean's office can make a difference.

  1. We can make sure there's no disparity in salaries. This may occur in some departments very subtly. We can fix it.

  2. We can make sure salaries and resources are distributed fairly and justly when we hire-that Sam isn't being given extraordinary resources while Sally gets half as much, even though they are doing the same thing and came in with the same level of training.

  3. We can continue to work to make Hopkins more appealing to female faculty. The attrition rate for women in medicine is higher because those trying to raise a family while advancing professionally face tougher barriers. Taking time off to have children and then trying to ramp back up after two or three years away from medicine is no easy task. Women need role models who have been able to combine academic and family life. We can help set up such a mentoring system.

  4. Most of all, I can see that those who make appointments understand the importance of hiring and promoting women. It would be wonderful if I could wave a magic wand or issue an edict from the dean's office and, presto! half our division chiefs and full professors would be women. But faculty members aren't hired or promoted by the dean. Chairmen of departments, division chiefs and promotions committees perform those roles. What I can do is keep the importance of gender equity in front of their face.

At just 11 percent of the faculty, there's no question but that senior women now are at a distinct disadvantage when they apply for department directorships. They are simply outnumbered by the vast number of highly qualified male candidates in the applicant pool.

For me, the answer comes back to recruitment, starting with the junior faculty. It reminds me of the old sports expression that a winning team must have a "deep bench." Baseball teams need a pipeline of highly skilled players ready to move up the ladder and into starring positions when openings occur. Hopkins also will increase its number of female star players by recruiting intensely for top woman rookies and making this a place where they want to stay.

I'm serious about doing what it takes to make our faculty and leadership fully representative of women and minorities. When the Women's Leadership Council reports back to me with data on specific areas where the dean's office can be helpful, I have every intention of addressing those issues.

Meanwhile, I think we're already making headway. When the School of Medicine's promotions committee met a couple of months ago to review the dossiers of the three faculty members being proposed for promotion from associate professor to full professor, there were no men among the candidates. I'm told it's the first time in Hopkins history that everyone up for the final vote to this top rank was a woman.