The independent news organization of Duke University

Gender gap persists in School of Medicine

A gender gap still exists at the School of Medicine, where there are fewer than four females for every 10 members of the faculty.

Women are well represented in the classroom but there is a lack of women continuing to higher faculty positions, said Susan Roth, chair of the executive committee for Duke’s Women’s Initiative and vice provost for interdisciplinary studies.

The percentage of female regular rank faculty rose from 26 percent in 1998 to 34 percent in 2008, according to a report presented by Provost Peter Lange to Academic Council in December 2008. But women represented just 17 percent of faculty with tenure or on a tenured track.

Numbers are currently being compiled for the provost to deliver an update to Academic Council in early 2011, Dr. Ann Brown, associate vice dean for faculty development, wrote in an e-mail. Preliminary numbers for 2010 indicate that women now represent 36 percent of the School of Medicine’s faculty.

“The percentage of women faculty in the School of Medicine is increasing gradually over time,” Brown said. “If you look at the gender breakdown by rank, women actually make up about 50 percent of the junior faculty, and the numbers thin out as rank increases.”

The School of Medicine makes an effort to recruit a diverse candidate pool for new chairs, Brown noted.

“Dean [Nancy] Andrews has spent much of the past year recruiting new chairs to [the school] and has emphasized her requirement that each search identify a diverse candidate pool,” Brown said. “She has had great success with her recruiting, including hiring the first female department of medicine chair, Dr. Mary Klotman, as well as Chair of Biostatistics Liz DeLong and most recently Chair of Psychiatry Holly Lisanby.”

But the disparity between male and female representation among medical faculty remains a national issue. Just 34 percent of U.S. medical school faculty are women, according to a 2008-2009 report conducted by the Association for American Medical Colleges.

Challenges remain for female faculty members, such as balancing home and work life. Dr. Elizabeth Livingston, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said she felt the occasional pains of working and raising children at the same time, recalling in specific missing the first steps of her oldest child.

“The feeling that I might be missing something is a difficult part of work life,” she said.

Dr. Christine Hulette, a professor of pathology, noted that working as a parent is actually very expensive.

“My entire salary went to childcare, but because I was fortunate to have a husband who also had a good career, we were able to make those arrangements,” she said.

The University has responded to work and life balance issues with a new parental leave and tenure clock relief policy created in 2003 and increased efforts to provide more flexible work arrangements for both women and men, Brown said. Most female medical faculty members said they appreciate Duke’s accommodations to those trying to balance their work and home life.

Despite these efforts, Hulette said women still often bear most of the responsibility for childcare, though she acknowledged that in some cases men have assumed more responsibility in the home.

Brown said she believes that issues with work environments have a bigger impact on the lack of female faculty than the work-life balance. She cited a recent study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that found that women faculty started with equal resources but, as rank advances, the resources did not expand similarly for both genders.

Some faculty members noted that hospitals are strongly dominated by men and underlying gender discrimination is still present.

“I don’t know if it’s because we’re part of the South and the old-boy network is stronger here than it is in other institutions.... I do know [a problem] exists,” Hulette said.

Different interests between the genders also contributes to the divide, Hulette added.

“Some men try to reach out and start up conversations about the ball game, and I’m just not interested,” she said. “And they don’t want to talk about the recipe I found on the Internet that I tried over the weekend.”

Other female medical faculty members said they now generally believe in a more complicated work environment in which women are not automatically disadvantaged because of their gender.

“I don’t think my career has been hurt by being female as much—I’ve had wonderful male mentors who have encouraged me along the way,” Livingston said. “Overall, I think I was encouraged by being a woman.”

The increase of female faculty in medical schools may have to come gradually with time, Hulette said.

“Some of my friends are adamant feminists and say that change is not coming fast enough,” Hulette said. “I always say, ‘Well it’s not happening immediately, but it is coming.’”


Share and discuss “Gender gap persists in School of Medicine” on social media.