On July 15, 2020, the Center for Women in Academic Medicine and Science hosted a virtual event titled “The Time is Now: Fostering an Inclusive Culture to Drive Gender Equity in Medicine,” in collaboration with The New York Stem Cell Foundation and AAAS Biomedicine. The event featured several current and former deans of prestigious medical schools, leaders of science organizations, and experts in the area of gender equity in academic medicine.

Our goal was to convene leaders who have advanced gender equity at and beyond their institutions in order to identify where work remains, and how best to tackle, recognize, and measure that work.  Originally imagined as a full-day, in-person convening, we adapted to the times and went virtual (recording available below).

Despite the immense strain that medical schools are experiencing during these times, it is clear that more than ever, “the time is now” for this conversation. Our esteemed guests and speakers agreed, identifying early warning signs that the gains made toward gender equity could be in jeopardy in this post-coronavirus world, where women fill greater roles in the home, potentially affecting time available for academic productivity.

What’s more, we recognized that the gains we’ve made have been altogether too modest. In the words of Dr. George Thibault, former President of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation:

“For nearly two decades, the percentage of women in leadership positions has stayed stubbornly in the range of 15-18%. At this rate, we would not achieve the 2006 Macy Conference goal [of having 50% of department chairs and 50% of deans be women] until 2080 to 2085.”

The good news: we have heard about strategies to effect change:

  • An intersectional approach is necessary at all levels. Data collection, programs, and policies must expressly include women whose experience of gender bias intersects with other core aspects of their identity. This is critical if we hope to positively affect all women in academic medicine.
  • Institutions and departments could measure and be held accountable for advancing gender equity. Speakers identified several sites where this requirement can be put into place, including grant applications and department chair evaluations.
  • Evidence-informed programs and policies that support women can be implemented to achieve enduring culture change. Among other things, Dr. Reshma Jagsi, Newman Family Professor and Deputy Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan, identified a need for mentorship/sponsorship programs, like CWAMS’s Faculty Network.

Moving ahead, we need to resoundingly re-iterate that gender equity translates into institutional excellence: creating innovative research, inspirational education, and better clinical care. Thus, now more than ever, programming and policies that enable women to remain in academic medicine and advance to leadership roles must be viewed as essential.

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