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faculty development


P&S Sets Course for Achieving Gender Equity

Kara Kelly


Women comprise 40 percent of faculty and nearly half of all medical students at P&S, but a Task Force on Women Faculty, co-chaired by Kara Kelly, above, with a young patient, and Lisa Mellman, found women faculty still face barriers in their careers.

Like many faculty members, Kara Kelly, M.D., came into the office one evening recently to catch up on some work. But unlike many of her male colleagues at work after hours, Dr. Kelly's ability to concentrate depended on the mood of her 6-year-old daughter, Katie, who she had brought in with her. If she was happy to play games on the office computer, Dr. Kelly could work; if not, it was time to call it a day.

The conflicting demands of an academic medical career and family is one of the issues a recent Task Force on Women Faculty at P&S has found can impede the progress of a female faculty member's career relative to her male colleagues.

The Task Force found inequities in salary and promotion between male and female faculty members and recommended changes to address the inequities. The Task Force's final report went to Gerald Fischbach, M.D., executive vice president and dean, earlier this year.

Several factors at P&S and elsewhere led to the establishment of the Task Force in 2004. "I think that there are frustrations that faculty face at all institutions," says Lisa Mellman, M.D., professor of psychiatry and senior associate dean for student affairs, who co-chaired the Task Force with Dr. Kelly, associate professor of clinical pediatrics. "But some women here have felt their concerns haven't been adequately addressed and that they have to fight hard to succeed."A pilot survey conducted in 2003 to get a sense of the climate at P&S found that salary and rank differences exist by gender with proportionately more women at lower levels and more men at higher levels. The results were similar to studies at many other universities. In response, Dr. Fischbach created the Task Force to identify the issues facing women faculty and make recommendations.

In its report, the Task Force found two overriding issues in the culture at P&S: lack of infrastructure for faculty development and lack of transparency in setting salaries, obtaining promotions, and other processes of career advancement.

The Task Force identified eight issues in particular that affect women faculty. They deemed three – rank, salary, and representation on important committees – as the most important.

The Task Force found that while 20 percent of full professors at P&S are women (compared with 14 percent nationally), women are promoted to full professor at a much lower rate than men. In clinical departments, only 7 percent of junior female faculty rises to full professor while 24 percent of junior male faculty is promoted to that rank.

The second issue, salary, was more complicated. Each department or division sets salaries by guidelines that are not uniformly provided to faculty members. In addition, salaries in clinical departments can come from several different sources including research and income from seeing patients. A preliminary analysis of 2004 salaries in the basic science departments, where salary structure is simpler, showed men earned 6 percent more on average than women.

The co-chairs of the Task Force say there are probably many reasons, along with the demands of childrearing, for these discrepancies. "It's not that there is conscious bias against women, but it's an end result of many different factors," Dr. Kelly says. "I think a lot of it is cultural. Men, I think, are reared to push for higher salaries and promotions."

"Because salary is a complicated issue to study, the issue for us now is to find out if there are real inequities by gender," Dr. Mellman says. The Task Force recommended first hiring an outside consultant to conduct the analysis, and then developing a mechanism to correct any inequities.

The Task Force also recommended that each department chairperson receive an annual report card listing the number and percentage of women and men at each rank, and that information on promotion criteria be provided yearly at departmental meetings. Departmental salary structure should also be transparent.

"This is
uncharted
territory at
P&S. Much-
needed
resources for all faculty to
flourish here
are just
being set in
place."

LISA MELLMAN

"Other places have found that just making salary data public has changed the situation," Dr. Kelly says. "We believe some of the salary differences are just due to different negotiating styles, so when faculty knows what the salary range is, they're in a better position to negotiate."

The third priority identified by the Task Force was representation on important committees such as the Committee on Appointments and Promotions, search and departmental executive committees, Executive Committee of Faculty Council, and Columbia award committees. Women are less likely to be represented on important and prestigious committees, the Task Force found, than on less prestigious committees that require large time commitments.

"It's not enough to put one woman on a search committee. In those situations, some women feel that what they say is not necessarily heard, but if a man says the exact thing, it's considered valuable," Dr. Mellman says. "It's not until you have a critical mass that you start to change the culture of the group and the nature of what's OK to talk about."

Many of the other needs identified by the Task Force – mentoring, skill building, faculty development, a longer tenure timeline that takes childbearing into account, and adequate childcare – are important for women's success but will also benefit male faculty.

Department chairpeople will also be critical in initiating changes, and during a retreat in late 2004, Dr. Kelly says there was general agreement that something needed to be done.

Dean Fischbach has been supportive and has created a new position, associate dean for gender equity and career development, to implement the Task Force's recommendations. The first associate dean will be appointed soon.

"I'm excited about how far we've come in so short a time. Faculty development has been lacking at P&S so this is something that will be a boon to all faculty, male and female," Dr. Mellman says.

The Task Force's final report can be found at http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/dept/ps/facultycouncil/issuetemplate.html

—Susan Conova

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