Men, As Well As Women, Benefit from Glass Ceiling Action In Academic Medicine

September 17, 1996

Somewhat ironically, men, as well as women, benefit from aggressive programs designed to remove career obstacles for women in academic medicine and science, according to a study by Johns Hopkins researchers.

In what is believed to be the first academic department of medicine to identify and aggressively interrupt both structural and subtle obstacles to women's advancement, the Hopkins' Department of Medicine program resulted in a 29 percent increase in the proportion of men who expected to be promoted, and a 42 percent decline in the proportion of men considering leaving academic medicine. The interventions, initially targeted to women, were associated with a 66 percent increase in the proportion of women who expected to be promoted and a 63 percent decline in the number of women considering leaving academic medicine.

More to the point of the study, the impact of the Hopkins' affirmative action plan on women was "broad and profound," according to Linda Fried, M.D., a Hopkins geriatrician who spearheaded the program and is the lead author of the study to be published in the Sept. 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Results of the program, which continues today:

86 percent of women surveyed reported gender bias had decreased in the department;

From two-thirds to one-half of all female faculty reported improvements in timeliness of promotions, manifestations of gender bias, access to information needed for faculty development, isolation, and salary equity;

Between 1990 and 1995, the number of women at the rank of associate professor increased from four to 26, a 550 percent rise -- with no changes in promotion criteria;

The proportion of women who felt that the climate in the department was less supportive declined 58 percent.

"This study has broad implications for our society in our approach to affirmative action programs. We're finding that by helping women, the entire community benefited, without standards being lowered," Fried said.

John Stobo, M.D., former chair of the department, called for the creation of a Task Force On Women's Academic Careers in Medicine in 1990 after an internal Hopkins report documented lower salaries for women faculty compared with men and substantially slower rates of promotion. A subsequent report for the department also found that only 40 percent of the women who wanted to be in academic medicine 10 years later expected they would be, compared with 66 percent of men, according to Fried, who chaired the task force. "We were seeing a large number of very talented scientists and physicians leave academic medicine. It was clear we were experiencing a brain drain," she said. This brain drain of women scientists also has been widely reported.

The task force first identified the career obstacles in objective terms, then developed reasonable solutions for the obstacles, Fried said. Among the barriers for women: fewer nominations for promotion; fewer mentors who actively fostered their career; fewer sought for collaborative research efforts; less access to resources and comparable salaries; and fewer chances to participate in informal institutional networks and decision-making.

The solutions ranged from correcting salary inequities to changing the dates of Medical Grand Rounds, the all-important arena for presenting interesting cases to colleagues, from Saturday mornings (on which it had been held for more than 100 years) to Friday mornings. "Women need to be with their families on weekends and feel they have obligations pulling them in both directions," Fried said. "Men in two-career families have similiar needs."

In addition, the program leaders found that many faculty members were unaware of what was needed to ensure that they would be promoted, Fried said. One solution, a program that provided review and mentoring to women faculty was so successful that it was expanded to include male faculty as well.

"The gender discrimination experienced at Johns Hopkins was not unlike that at other institutions," Fried said. "What's different is what we did about it."

This research was supported entirely by The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.


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