M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Cancer Newsline Audio Podcast Series
Date: October 20, 2008
Duration: 0 / 15:18
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Welcome to Cancer Newsline a weekly podcast series from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. The aim of Cancer Newsline is to help you stay current with the news on cancer research, and the rapidly changing advances in cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention. We will also provide you with the latest information on reducing your family’s risk of being diagnosed with cancer. My name is Dr. Leonard Zwelling I am a professor of medicine and pharmacology here at M. D. Anderson.
Today we are going to continue our discussion on Women In Science and academic medicine Were going to continue with Dr. Elizabeth Travis who is a professor at M. D. Anderson departments of Radiation Oncology and Pulmonary Medicine and as her special role associate vice president for Women Faculty Programs in addition Dr. Joya Chandra is here from pediatrics and she is going to talk a little bit about her experience as women in the faculty. So first question I have is for Dr. Travis and give us an idea of what percentage of the M. D. Anderson faculty is women at the various ranks?
At the various ranks?
Yes. Or even in general.
Well lets start with the proportion of the faulty who are women that 35% and that been roughly 35% for the last five years. So it has not change much. So that one thing we do know. The other thing is that not unexpectedly as you go higher in rank numbers get smaller and ah…so we have. Terms of women represent about 20% of the professors. The represent 30% of the associate professors and 40 plus percent of the assistant professors. So you have a perfect pyramid with a big base of entry level and smaller pinnacle of the professor. Men on the other hand are a nice rectangle almost equally distributed between the ranks.
One thing Dr. Chandra is the question whether or not the criteria maybe different from men and women can you elaborate on that? Cause theoretically there are women on the promotion committee and they should be making the decisions or help making the decisions to a uniform criteria but your concerned that may not be the case.
Well I then there is not enough women on the promotion committee for one. Also there an issue whether the criteria promotion, and tenure are fair to women and whether the evaluation of women promotion, tenure is as it should be. So for example the general criteria usual examines your funding, your publications, your recognition in terms of national and international reputation, and then your service and educational responsibilities.
This has mostly to do with research and patient care.
Yes, and so I think there have been numerous psychological experiments in the social psychology realm showing that both men and women judge women more harshly just based on societal perception, whatever. So this brings up the question of whether things like grant reviews and journal reviews should be blinded. This doesn't take place and so I think there built in biases toward women that were not adequately addressing in terms of funding in terms of publications. Now the issue of national and international reputation relies greatly on whether your invited to give talks at conferences, talks at other meetings, talks at various institutions and it’s obvious from looking at any department seminar series list, that women are not invited as frequently as men are so I think we need to question why that is occurring and have some major advocacy ah… rolling out to improve those numbers. To ensure equivalency between women and men getting invited to give seminars.
You opened up the next question which is the issue of mentoring, role models and advocacy that something that puts women at a disadvantage right away? It’s harder for them to find mentors, harder for them to find role models, harder to have people advocating for them so they can succeed the same way men can. Either one of you can answer that.
I think until recently uh…I didn't really have a strong female role models. Now I have a great department and division head Genie Klinerman who's a fabulous female role model but honestly before that point I can’t that any of my role models were women simply because they were not around. So I think there’s a dearth of women in leadership positions as Dr. Travis pointed out by stating that 20% of full professors at the institution are females which lead to younger faculty not having gender appropriate role models in place.
I think it’s important to have more then one mentor. I think it’s important for women to see women in leadership positions for sure. That doesn’t mean that man can’t be good role models and good advocates and I have to give tribute to all the men who were role models, and who were advocates, and who were mentors for me throughout my career. So they were there then and they are here now and the issue is finding them, and identifying them into mentoring position with women. I think you need both because I think again it’s a diversity of opinion that makes for rich and full faculty member if you will. It’s diversity of opinion around a table, that’s why there are percentages on what is critical mass it’s around 35 to 40%. The whole conversation around a table changes.
It’s the tipping point.
Yes, it’s the tipping point, that's exactly right. If there’s a third of women at the table, if there are minorities at the table everything changes and in a good way it only makes for a far more richer experience and a better organization. A more diverse organization is stronger.
Our organization, when they talk about diversity taking into account more then racial and ethnic diversity, it also means gender diversity? Is that something that we're doing?
Yes, yes plus it means generational diversity.
And there are plenty of issues around generational differences. We have four generations in the work force not two, not three we have four. We start with the Yer’s, Xer's, Boomers, and the old folk [laughs].
But it’s true. Some time the younger people the supervisors the older people. Which really create some clash in expectation.
Oh that’s a difficult one for everyone I think.
The women may actually be pioneers forcing the issue about work, life arrangements and balance. It may really affect all the generations both men and women.
Well I think it will. I like to think that although I'm the AVP for women faculty that what we do benefits everybody. Benefits the men, it benefits minorities. That what we do is a benefit to everyone. The policies that we deal with are gender neutral.
Now we had fortunately at M. D. Anderson a host of people who have been legacies and people who have really been pioneers and I thought that you would like to talk a little about how your going to honor those people.
This gives me great pleasure to talk about this because we have a project I really have enjoy working on we have a book that's going to becoming out sometime in the fall it’going to be called "Legends and Legacies: Personal Journeys of Women Physicians and Scientist at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center" and these are 26 of our senior women faculty and there telling there personal stories it’s like there CV’s. The things we're talking about what were some of their obstacles, how did they do this and I read everyone of them and they are very interesting stories there is a commonality themes some came from non-privilege backgrounds, some came from privilege backgrounds. All of them had an determination, commitment what they did. They were bound to succeed. They are very inspirational stories.
I think one of the things we sort of touch up on the first broadcast but I think we need to come back to if we could. To emphasize the possible cost to the country of not taking this seriously are maybe sacrificing a lot of extremely productive people if we don’t start advocating for women science and medicine. You want to comment upon that a little bit more about what we should be doing perhaps even in the lower grade levels just to make sure the pipeline is maintained.
Well we're talking about half the population here and were talking about there ability to contribute toward the scientific future of this nation and I think we have to consider ah…the education that has been invested in them at the high school, college, and post graduate levels as a national investment and if that investment isn’t being utilized then it’s a national loss. So for example I referred in the last broadcast that these colleagues of mine that I trained with at graduated school who gotten Ph. D ’s but are not currently using them I think we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and say why. What is not allowing them to be able to do what they want to do in terms of there personal lives yet not utilize there degrees.
I think some of it is personal choice there are women who are highly educated and just choose to be home with there children. I think the goal should be to have an opportunity for anyone who wants it and is qualifies for it. I think it’s about having the opportunity to compete and to be viewed the same as a male or minority. I think that’s what’s it is about level playing field that when people come in and they may bring different talents and you have to look at them. We may have to change some of the ways we evaluate success.
Yea, that's what I want, to get to at the end of what we as an community do to face the fact that we can do better to promoting women in science and medicine? What should we do as a community?
I think we men and women should come together around this issue and diversity. I think it should be a diverse group it should be cross generation, it should be gender, it should be under represented minorities. I think we have to have a group that says how do we do this, how do we make this work for all of us. For example we need on and off ramps for women who want to…
Can you elaborate on that one? [Laughs]…what’s an on and off ramp?
Well your on a highway and you're going down this career highway if you will. Then you have a job. I call it having a smorgasbord of options , so you're going down the line and have a child... and for reasons that are none of our concern actually, you feel you need more time with this child and so you say ok I have to back off a little I need a off ramp and then you say ok I’m ready I need an on ramp. So those are ways of exits off and on the highway. We have them all the time on 59 freeway [laugh].
We haven’t touched up on this much but parents also need car for not just…often that falls on the woman as well. So there another on ramp off ramp that need to be generated not just for children but also taking care of the elderly.
For whatever life happens, it happens to all of us. If you remember that was one of the reason we thought about these issues when we did extension to freeze tenure clock almost 18...well a long time ago. Cause things happen in everyone’s life that mean you have other things that are weighing heavily on you, perhaps, or you have elder parents and the boomer in particular are sandwiched.
Do either of you want to give us any more information, or chime in some more. This is a fascinating topic we can go on but we have time limits.
Well I would just like to say we have to be supportive of our women trainees. It’s wonderful to see a office dedicated to women faculty and to promoting women. I think that both male and female mentors need to be aware of the challenges that women face and being taken seriously and encouraging them to speak out and being advocates. That support need to be built in to encourage them to get to the point of being eligible for faculty positions and then we'll have to work on the next step which is the criteria for getting women faculty through the ranks.
I’ll just like to say that we pride ourselves on hiring, recruiting, retaining the best of the best. If we don’t look at the other 50% of the population we are not getting all of the best that we possibly could and I think that it’s incumbent upon more senior of our faculty because it’s up to us to hand the baton over and train the next generation and to make sure we are promoting, recruiting, and retaining the best of the best irregardless of gender.
Thank you both very much! This has been really interesting. Listeners if you have any questions about anything you heard today on Cancer Newsline please contact M. D. Anderson at 1-877-MDA-6789 or online www.mdanderson.org/ask. Thank you for listening this episode of Cancer Newsline. Please tune in next week for the next episode in this series.
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