I entered graduate school in 2017, at a time when it is no longer rare to see female graduate students at top institutions. Here, I have encountered inspiring female role models at different stages of their scientific careers. Gender equity is often discussed at workshops and by visiting seminar speakers. I hear of perpetrators in academia removed.
For early career female scientists, the environment is rapidly becoming more inclusive. However, later career female scientists face a harsher reality. Even as many schools recruit more diversely at the assistant professor level, the starting female professors encounter roadblocks such as unequal pay, lack of mentorship, a heavy burden of invisible labor and harassment. Many are stuck between a rock and a hard place — feeling lost and lonely, in need of guidance, and the extra pressure of proving their independence.
At a recent workshop, “Gender Equity in Science at Hopkins,” biophysicist Karen Fleming spoke about her experiences as a female professor at Johns Hopkins since the turn of the millennium. Fleming shared how she turned her frustrations with the omnipresent “dude walls” into the art installation “The Women of Hopkins,” to celebrate the success of inspiring female members of the Johns Hopkins community. We enjoyed hearing her insight on being a change-maker from the outside versus on the inside of the institution. Fleming shared her experience of leading the gender equity journal club for graduate students, and how the Women of Faculty Forum advocated for affordable on-campus day care, inclusive parental leave policy, and dean lunches with new women in faculty.
At the end of the workshop, Fleming outlined the following seven pieces of advice to those who wish to promote gender equity at their institution:
- Check your hidden biases often. Even as females and allies who care about equity, the environment we grew up in has instilled in us implicit biases, which we may then unintentionally perpetuate. The only way to address these biases is to acknowledge them ourselves. Researchers have developed a quiz to help us identify our implicit biases. Every year, Fleming encourages people in her lab to take this quiz, which has been an excellent way to start conversations around these issues.
- Normalize the discussion and keep the conversation going. As a topic that permeates every aspect of our lives, equity should be part of our everyday conversation. The impact of a seminar, a book or an article on equity can be amplified by us sharing our thoughts and discussing what we have learned. With people who may hold a different opinion, Fleming says asking probing questions may help clarify their thoughts.
- Read social psychology literature on gender equity with friends. There is a wealth of social psychology literature on gender biases and how they affect us. It can be a fun starting point to learn more about ourselves and others. Fleming runs a journal club where they meet and discuss the social psychology literature, and has always enjoyed the discussions generated.
- Use inclusive pedagogy. If you teach or mentor other people, you are part of the pipeline that trains the next generation of scientists. Keeping inclusivity in mind will help prevent existing biases of the system from negatively impacting your students.
- Know that images matter. It means a lot to have role models and see people who look like you succeed. Sometimes when we see a last name attached to a brilliant piece of work, we may not assume it is produced by a woman. She may have been through similar moments of struggle and self-doubt like we have. It is important to show the images and tell the stories of diverse women in science.
- Learn how to perform bystander intervention. This is arguably the most powerful and immediate way to protect one another from harassment. Take a few minutes to learn about this strategy, and start making your environment more inclusive.
- Do not underestimate the agency you bring, and remember inclusive community starts with each of us. Progress in eliminating systemic bias can feel slow and depressing, but our actions are powerful in shaping the immediate environment around us!
This event was hosted by Women in Academic Research Pathways (WARP), a new initiative founded by two postdocs at Hopkins, Margaret Ho and Sarah Maguire. WARP is an informal bimonthly discussion group focused on women in academic research pathways at Hopkins.
The next event is a discussion with Dr. Shanthini Sockanathan on being an academic-mother and work/life balance. It's on February 14, 2020, from 3:00 - 4:00 p.m., at 1830 E Monument Street, Room 602.