ASH members are at the forefront of addressing the challenge to ensure opportunities for sustained career success for women entering biomedical research fields. At a recent NIH conference titled "Women in Biomedical Careers: Best Practices for Sustaining Career Success," Nancy Andrews, MD, PhD, the Dean at Duke University School of Medicine, not only described the reasons why women are leaving academic medicine after beginning promising careers as assistant professors, but also stressed the urgency of ensuring that an extremely valuable and robust talent pool is maintained and cultivated.
In addition, Timothy Ley, MD, Professor of Medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine, provided data to show that women are as successful as men in obtaining research grants, but are less likely to continue to seek renewed funding. He described the current academic culture as "patriarchal, developed by men for men."
Speakers from other organizations, such as Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche, discussed their successful programs for ensuring continued advancement of talented women in the workplace. Both described aggressive efforts to recruit and retain women, such as training them for executive positions and providing flexible career paths and opportunities for telecommuting. Both organizations stated that they have been actively addressing the need to retain women in the workforce and enhance diversity for the past 15 years. As a result, in 2007, 33 percent of new partner/principal promotions at Ernst & Young were women.
Representatives from the academic health centers, one of whom was Andrew Schafer, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell, current president of the Association of Professors of Medicine, and immediate past president of ASH, discussed how they were promoting sustained career success through providing or advocating for flexibility in the time for tenure to be achieved and promoting executive leadership programs and initiatives to enhance work/life balance.
The NIH, through its Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers, co-chaired by Drs. Elias Zerhouni and Vivian Pinn, is developing policies that are in concert with those in universities.
What should professional societies do? Societies and organizations need to include diversity at all levels. The NIH will work with professional organizations and universities to track the career development of women in biomedical research/academic medicine and develop policies that provide family balance, extension of time in tenure track positions, and opportunities for executive training. The loss of talent from the biomedical research workforce is a national issue of the highest priority and must be addressed by the leaders at academic health centers, professional organizations, and the federal government working together. To review the agenda from the meeting and the speaker presentations, visit the Women in Biomedical Careers Web site.