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Why Have an Office of Women Faculty Programs?

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Elizabeth Travis 1As the associate vice president for women faculty programs, still a relatively new program at M. D. Anderson, I am often asked "What do you do?" and "Why do we need this office?"   
When I think about these questions, it comes down to three issues

We need all the best minds to focus on finding cures and treating cancer.
The frequently quoted figure is that the pipeline for physicians and scientists contains 50% women. This has been true for the last five years, but these numbers aren't reflected in faculty ranks at any institution. More relevant to M. D. Anderson, however, is that 49% of the fellows completing oncologic fellowships are women -- although this percentage is specialty dependent -- but only 24% of practicing oncologists are women. That begs the question, "What happens to these women?"

For the Ph.D.s, we know that the pipeline from assistant professor to professor is leaky. So, by the time we reach the professor rank, the numbers of women have greatly diminished to only 20%. With the impending shortage of oncologists and the projected increase in cancer incidence in our aging population, compounded by the good news of increased numbers of survivors, M. D. Anderson must cultivate and fully engage women scientists and physicians if we are to fulfill our mission of Making Cancer History.

Women Faculty Programs' charge is to initiate and implement initiatives to do just that: recruit, promote and retain women faculty. We work across the board to examine existing policies and recommend revisions, so that they're more aligned with women's (and frequently men's) lives. Examples are extending the tenure/tenure track clock for faculty who have a new child in the family and implementing career development programs. By the way, many of these policies "lift all boats" as they're gender neutral policies.

We also help identify and recruit women to leadership positions in the institution, since it's clear that more women at the top attract more women at all levels of the organization. In addition, our patients tell us that they want doctors who are like them -- men and women, and from a variety of cultures.

Finally, it's good business. Research indicates that organizations with the highest   representation of women on their boards outperform those with the least by 53%. In terms of sales, companies with more women board directors outpace those with fewer by 42%. So, too, with medicine and science. Who could argue with that?

Resources
The other physician-scientist problem: Where have all the young girls gone? (Nature)

A gender gap in the next generation of physician-scientists: medical student interest and participation in research (PubMed)

Legends and Legacies: Personal Journeys of Women Physicians and Scientists at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center


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The frequently quoted figure is that the pipeline for physicians and scientists contains 50% women. This has been true for the last five years, but these numbers aren't reflected in faculty ranks at any institution. More relevant to M. D. Anderson, how... Read More

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