April 17, 2016

Moving Towards Equity in Medicine

By Crystal Mendoza

By: Domenic Fraboni and Crystal Mendoza

April 13th was Equal Pay Day. At a panel discussion, Women in Science and Medicine: Moving Toward Equity in Career and Professional Development sponsored by the Office for Diversity, we learned that Equal Pay Day represents the day that women needed to work until in 2016 (added to their 2015 salary) to earn what their male counterparts earned during the 2015 calendar year. This discussion, led by a panel of Mayo physician and scientists, was tackling this exact issue and its prominence in the medial and science fields.

Guest moderator, Sharonne Hayes, M.D., began the discussion by outlining concerning statistics that represent the current inequality in medical career advancement between sexes.  To begin, Dr. Hayes pointed out that no women were nominated in 2014 or 2015 for the Mayo Clinic Distinguished Investigator award.  Furthermore, the winners of the award since the 1980’s have been comprised of 96% men.  The familial status of those employees also varies greatly between men and women.  Of those employees seeking to further their career in medicine, 25% of women were single without children whereas only 9% of men shared that same status.  A much higher percentage of men were currently married with children, perhaps suggesting that men are easier able to “have it all.”  Dr. Hayes said that gone are the times when a man can work 60-70 hours a week in their medical profession while his wife stays home as the primary care-giver to their children.  At Mayo Clinic, what can we do to work toward equal opportunity in health profession careers?

The panel consisted of both physicians and scientists:

  • Karen Hedin, Ph.D.- Professor in Immunology
  • Kay Pepin, Ph.D. – Radiation Oncology
  • Jim Maher, Ph.D. – Dean of Mayo Graduate School/ Professor of Biochemistry
  • Sumedha Penheiter, Ph.D.  – Office of Health Disparities
  • Jay-Sheree Allen, M.D. – Family Medicine

Many seek the answer in the “career pipeline.”  This pipeline is supposed to help streamline motivated women into successful careers in medicine.  The pipeline method helps provide opportunities to deserving women to enter programs such as medical education, research, and leadership development.  Maybe most importantly, the pipeline is meant to help find good female mentors for young women looking to advance their career.  Shortly after outlining the pipeline, Dr. Hayes pointed out issues with relying on this strategy.  Women still are the ones that carry and give birth to our children.  Many women drop off the path to career success due to family prioritization and thus contribute to a leaky pipeline.

A common theme the panelists agreed on as an issue women face in career advancement is the simple culture that our society has developed around advanced careers in medicine and medical education.  Men have historically dominated the field.  Because of this, young women have difficulty finding established, female role models in their field of interest.  Many women also feel a lack of expectations and respect from their peers, potentially due to the male-dominated stigma that exists.  The panel then began to discuss what we could do to reduce this unfortunate societal stigma and repair some of the leaks in the career pipeline for women.

So, how can women “have it all”? Jim Maher, Ph.D., Dean of Mayo Graduate School, offered advice he gives many female graduate students: “You have to find a partnership to facilitate your career”. As far as women succeeding in the biomedical field, it all comes down to networking: actively seeking out a network of mentors, in particular strong, female mentors. Young female scientists in particular are faced with a lack of women in the research. For these women, incorporating mentors on committees that are more progressive is a necessity when it comes to success of women in the sciences and health care.

Diversity Discussion Panel (from left to right: Karen Hedin, Kay Pepin, Jim Maher, Sumedha Penheiter, Jay-Sheree Allen, and moderator Sharonne Hayes). Photo credit: Crystal Mendoza

Diversity Discussion Panel (from left to right: Karen Hedin, Kay Pepin, Jim Maher, Sumedha Penheiter, Jay-Sheree Allen, and moderator Sharonne Hayes). Photo credit: Crystal Mendoza

How are issues in gender disparities solved? First off, we have to solve the problem of many people not understanding or accepting that inequality exists in the first place. The panel offered a simple solution to this: education that there are gender disparities would be a starting point. Furthermore, women mentoring women to take control of their careers and help them help themselves succeed. It was mentioned by a member in the audience (actually, it was Domenic Fraboni) that the best way to move forward with this issue and work towards equality is to disrupt the status quo as it stands. Many audience members agreed with this.

Education is key, first off to encourage change, but perhaps the metrics we hold for success are also outdated. Dr. Hayes cited an article published in the Academic Medicine Journal, which reported that female physicians publish fewer papers than their male counterparts throughout their careers, however that gap was no longer existent after 27 years in their careers. This is seen over and over again; women publish less and hold fewer leadership positions than men; which the paper held as a threshold for academic success. The question then becomes, what other measurements do we have for career success? Are there new metrics we have yet to take into consideration? This becomes an interesting question and one that we do not have an answer for.

We left the panel discussions with more questions than answers. The discussion was fantastic and the panel had wonderful advice to give both men and women about gender disparities and how to move forward. Our goal now is to educate others and effect change.

If you wish to continue this discussion, please comment below!

Useful resources:

When Scientists Choose Motherhood- American Scientist

Women in Science and Engineering Research (Intranet site)

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