The Covid-19 pandemic has levied disproportionate effects on women in all walks of life, and thus predictably within our halls of academia. A recent commentary, which included three members of CWAMS as authors, entitled Pandemic-related barriers to the success of women in research: a framework for action (Davis et al, Nature Medicine) aptly describes the increased burden for women faculty and the already apparent effect on some research programs. It warns of the long-term detrimental consequences of this potential loss of talent. Recognizing that women experience inequity in terms of resources and bias at every turn during their academic careers, this commentary lays out interventions to address some of the specific consequences for women engaged in research.
Women comprise 50% of assistant professors within our schools of medicine, though many fewer are trained and engaged in research. These early career scientists, both basic and clinical, represent a fragile group, challenged by the multiple commitments of their career and its culture along with those of their home and family lives. The pandemic-specific effects on clinical research further compounds difficulties for some. The actions of institutions that are directed at easing the deadlines and requirements during this unprecedented crisis may not result in equitable outcomes for women when compared with men; in some instances, men may experience even greater advantage in productivity. Other pandemic-related suggestions may not be readily accessible and flexible for women. What this commentary makes clear is that mitigating the pandemic effects on women faculty requires specific solutions to retain and develop women researchers, lest this group be overwhelmed by a system that seems insurmountable. The framework outlines a recipe for a change in culture that, while critically relevant now, is much needed for the growth of women faculty as researchers in our academic enterprises. After all, it is these women who will be among those who would be our future leaders and role models, and who will contribute to perspectives and innovations that are necessary to advance health. The endorsement of this framework by the Clinical Research Forum, whose mission for over two and a half decades has been to advance clinical translational research, suggests serious opportunity: an opportunity to influence institutions and funders to innovate and intervene in ways that will substantially help advance gender equity in academic medicine and science.
Jeanette Mladenovic, MD, MBA, MACP
President/CEO, Center for Women in Academic Medicine and Science