Little gender diversity at School of Medicine

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Photo by Rachel Kubi.

Female faculty at the School of Medicine still have a long journey to full equality, deputy dean Carolyn Slayman and other administrators say.

Yale’s medical faculty faces the problem of limited gender diversity. According to a 2010 School of Medicine faculty count, women comprise 40.4 percent of the school’s 2,350 total faculty members and only 35 percent of the 1,242 professors. But administrators are seeking to increase these percentages by applying new recruitment practices to the search for new employees, including the current effort to hire a new chair of pediatrics. While some professors said motherhood and the historically low numbers of female medical students prevent females from ascending to higher level positions within medical schools, female professors said the trend is indicative of a wider long-term cultural bias.

“There are studies that show a culture of exclusion,” School of Medicine dean Robert Alpern said of the culture at many medical schools. “That men tend to run things and they don’t include women in the ‘old boys club.’”

HISTORY

The first female medical students were admitted to Yale in 1916 only after economics professor Henry Farnam 1874 GRD 1876 wrote to the president requesting the addition of female bathrooms in the medical school, said genetics and therapeutic radiology professor Susan Baserga ’80 GRD ’84 MED ’88. A generous donation by Farnam funded the entire project and ultimately allowed his daughter, Louise Farnam MED ’20, to graduate in 1920.

Since then, the numbers of female medical students and lower-level medical faculty members have increased to match the number of men.

During the first few years of female presence on the medical campus, “the old boys club” still dominated, said genetics and therapeutic radiology professor Susan Baserga ’80 GRD ’84 MED ’88, who has published two articles on the subject in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

HIRING

Women’s path to medical education is simpler now.

According to The School of Medicine’s student admission statistics, the graduating class of 2010 was made up of 49 percent females, increasing from 29 percent in 1980.

But the medical faculty has still not achieved the same equality.

A 2009 School of Medicine report shows that numbers of females decline as faculty members move up the ranks: 42 percent of medical junior faculty, including assistant professors and non-tenured associate professors, are female, while only 20 percent of senior, tenured faculty are women at the School of Medicine, Slayman said.

Alpern explained that the school’s history of inequality in admissions is still affecting the number of high-level female medical administrators, Alpern said.

“In the 1970s when I went to medical school, about 10 percent of my class were women,” Alpern said. “Now it is 50 percent women, so a lot of people who are trained and could end up on faculty are growing with time.”

Since 2009, the medical school has required at least one member of every recruitment committee to receive diversity training, four administrators said. The training is intended to sensitize recruiters to any bias they might naturally hold against females or minorities.

“We all carry our own ideas of what we think an academic citizen looks like,” Baserga said. “If you’re not asking yourself those things all the time, then you may be bringing [bias]. You almost have to actively work against it.”

To further increase diversity, Alpern said Provost Peter Salovey allows the School of Medicine to select up to five women and minorities for senior faculty positions without seeking the Provost’s approval for each candidate — usually, the provost makes the final decision regarding upper level faculty recruitment. These “five slots” expedite faculty diversification, Alpern said.

FACULTY RETENTION

The biggest impediment to gender diversity is faculty retention, said Mary Hu, the School of Medicine’s director of institutional planning and communication.

Baserga said female faculty occasionally leave the university because their partners find work elsewhere or because of the difficulty they face balancing professional work and raising a family — a dilemma that frequently plagues young junior faculty members.

The School of Medicine is not blind to these problems.

Yale’s human resources department posts academic job listings to help faculty spouses who work in higher education find employment in the New Haven area, Director of Faculty Development and Equity Linda Bockenstedt said. The School of Medicine also expands the length of a faculty member’s tenure if he or she has a child while working at Yale, allowing the new parent to spend more time at home, Alpern said.

“It may take women a little longer to come up to promotion to associate professor, and it may be related to childbearing issues,” Bockenstedt said. “We have to work on retaining them and helping them through the critical years when life is difficult.”

But other female members of faculty leave for reasons unrelated to family, professors said.

Last year pediatric department chair Margaret Hostetter — one of three female department chairs at the medical school — left Yale to work for a Cincinnati medical school, Slayman said. The transition was a wise career choice for Hostetter, Slayman added, because the Cincinnati pediatric facility is larger than Yale’s and houses more faculty in Hostetter’s specialty.

Hostetter’s departure has given Yale’s pediatric department the chance to advance another woman to a senior rank, and the pediatrics chair search committee is considering many well-qualified female candidates, Alpern said.

Hostetter’s tale is not unique.

Bockenstedt said medical schools constantly compete for the most talented female medical professionals because the lack of gender diversity is a nationwide problem.

But recruiting female faculty from other medical schools does nothing to increase the overall number of female high-level administrators in the medical profession, both Hu and Bockenstedt said.

Baserga said the medical school needs to accelerate its efforts to increase the number of female faculty members.

“That’s what freaks me out,” she said. “Things we were working on in the 1980s are still going on today.”

The School of Medicine consists of 28 different departments, of which only two departments are led by women.

Correction: November 3, 2010

An earlier version of this article contained several errors. First, it incorrectly stated the total number of female faculty at the School of Medicine. Women comprise 40.4 percent of the school’s 2,350 total faculty members. The article also incorrectly suggested that 25 percent of the School of Medicine’s Class of 1980 was female — the correct figure is 29 percent. Finally, the article misspelled Cincinnati and the name of previous pediatrics department chair Margaret Hostetter. The News regrets these errors.

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