Providing Support Systems
As we recover from the pandemic, there are lessons to be learned. The disparities that existed before remain and are even starker, which will require thoughtful responses and planning for the future to put everyone on equal footing. Part of the solution entails combating bias, reimagining the metrics of success and implementing support systems.
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Explore This IssueSeptember 2021
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Bias in science is not new. For example, women and minorities tend to be invited to serve as peer reviewers less often.10 And there is a well-recognized pay gap for women physicians.11
One way to support women and minorities in academia is to adjust the metrics of success for promotion and tenure decisions beyond publishing papers and getting grants.
“Recognize other very important roles that women are playing or successes they’re having that maybe aren’t [traditionally thought of as] the most important thing in science,” Dr. Correll says. “Think a little outside the box of what is success and then recognize that success.”
Giving credit for activities like educational programs or committee service and adjusting the tenure clock are a couple of examples. One successful grant application may be the result of 10 attempts, Dr. Danila notes, and recognizing overall effort in addition to successes could make a huge difference.
Promoting more women to leadership positions will help encourage those who follow to strive for top posts, as well. Dr. Haberman notes that the rheumatology division chief at NYU is a woman—Jill P. Buyon, MD—which provides systemic support for other women.
“Having that role model or seeing that she’s able to achieve that position makes me think I can achieve that position,” she says.
Building a community support system to help women and minorities succeed can make all the difference, too. If mentorship programs aren’t available locally, there are national programs that can help.
“Being immersed in a group of people who were like me, going through similar struggles, [and having] mentors, who even if they weren’t minorities at least had dedicated their lives to seeing my experience, was very validating and gave me the encouragement to keep going,” Dr. Blazer says of her experience with NIH Pride.
Additional ways to support women in the workplace include offering on-site childcare and drop-in day care, or increasing the use of telemedicine as needed to offer physicians some flexibility.
Now that life is moving toward some semblance of normalcy, everyone needs extra support to rediscover (or discover for the first time) some work-life balance.
“Many people I know worked more during the pandemic than before, and I think that’s a problem as we move into this next phase of post-pandemic or peri-pandemic, where the balance, if it existed, doesn’t exist anymore,” Dr. Danila says. “There is no cutoff between work and life.”
Any solutions that are implemented institutionally can’t be one-size-fits-all and should take into account everyone’s lived experiences. Focusing on those who need the most support effectively helps everyone and will support women and minorities.
“If we are to retain women in the workforce, we’re really going to have to be mindful of what resources they need to be successful,” Dr. Blanco says. “And as women, hopefully, we’ll keep unifying our collective voices to say, ‘No, I need this. We need this.’”