Hannah Valantine, the National Institutes of Health’s first chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, gave the inaugural “Perspectives of Women in Science” lecture on Tuesday afternoon, drawing a crowd of more than 250 students and faculty to the School of Medicine’s Harkness Auditorium.

As a joint sponsorship by the medical school’s M.D./Ph.D. program and the Office of the Dean, the annual lectureship invites a female physician-scientist to share her journey in science and discuss the opportunities and challenges that have shaped her path. This year, Valantine — who has been lauded for her innovations in cardiovascular medicine — discussed her current work at the NIH in eliminating the gender leadership gap in academic medicine and the importance of institutional change in achieving diversity in medicine.

“For the longest time, we’ve focused these diversity efforts on the individual. While those efforts are essential and need to go on, they’re not sufficient,” Valantine said in her talk on Tuesday. “We must move away from this idea of fixing the woman or fixing the minority to fixing the institution.”

Faculty in Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. program initially developed the idea for the lectureship as the School of Medicine was in 2016 celebrating the 100-year anniversary of its decision to begin admitting women to the school. According to Tamar Taddei, a medical school professor and an associate director of Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. program, the goal of the lectureship was twofold: to learn about the journeys of established and successful scientists — as well as the challenges and opportunities they faced — and to hear the perspective of women in science on issues such as diversity, gender equity and gender biases.

Valantine was selected as the first speaker of this annual series through a comprehensive process involving students, faculty and administrators. After the M.D./Ph.D. program’s student-run Committee for Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice formed a list of potential speakers with input from the student body, the Office of the Dean and various groups at the medical school — including the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine and the Minority Organization for Retention & Expansion — made the final decision.

Taddei noted that Valantine hoped to make the maximum impact possible during her visit. Before the lecture, Valantine spoke with top administrators at the medical and graduate schools.

“We had a leadership roundtable with her in which, in a more intimate setting, she met with the leadership of the medical school and graduate school to discuss these issues in a way that was open and welcoming of commentary particular to Yale,” Taddei said.

In her talk, Valantine, who received her NIH appointment in 2014, shared that while growing up in London she was often the only person of color in her school. As she continued to pursue a career in cardiology, she found there were only two female cardiology physicians in the city at the time. These experiences helped shape her efforts to promote gender and racial diversity in academic medicine, she explained.

“The sense of lack of inclusion is paramount, and it is something that we must attend to,” Valantine said.

One point of emphasis in the talk was that representation of minorities and women declines as the career path in medicine progresses from student to scientist and professorship to leadership. At the current rate of growth, it would take 48 years to reach gender parity among U.S. medical school faculty, Valantine noted.

Valantine next explained the importance of diversity, citing research supporting the value of diversity in medicine.

“Diversity of our scientists, in and of itself, improves the quality and outputs of science,” she said. For example, she said, studies have shown that diverse teams address problems more quickly and creatively.

To address the lack of diversity, medical schools need to move beyond diversity strategies at the individual level to affect institutional change, Valantine explained. Leadership of these schools must target three elements of culture to promote diversity and inclusion: climate, equity and work-life flexibility.

Medical institutions must increase transparency and accountability through internally sharing hiring and promotion procedures and publicizing diversity metrics, according to Valantine. As the co-chair of a task force that focuses on institution-level change in the NIH Intramural Research Program, she has led efforts to promote transparency in resources and salary, create equity metrics for annual evaluation and correct identified biases.

She also addressed sociocultural factors such as stereotypes that may hinder diversity in medicine. In one study, for example, women who are perceived as the most feminine are judged least likely to be a scientist.

“Very early on in childhood, the stereotype of who is a scientist already exists, and our environment continues to reinforce these stereotypes,” she said.

Following Valantine’s lecture was a reception featuring information tables organized by Yale’s Working Women’s Network and the Yale Latino Networking Group.

Amy Xiong | amy.xiong@yale.edu