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Q&A: Vision 2020 Gender Equity at Johns Hopkins (web article)


Francesca Dominici

Universities and colleges across the country are making headway in their efforts to address the career obstacles faced by female faculty, staff and students. In February, Harvard University named its first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust, PhD. Of the eight Ivy League schools, four are now run by women.

To learn more about this issue at Johns Hopkins University, the Office of Communications and Public Affairs spoke to Francesca Dominici, PhD, a professor in the School’s Department of Biostatistics and the chair of the faculty subcommittee of the University Committee on the Status of Women (UCSOW).

Linda Fried, MD, MPH, a professor of medicine, epidemiology, health policy and management and nursing, chairs the committee. President William R. Brody and Provost Steven Knapp charged the committee with developing a formal analysis and strategy for the University to examine the obstacles to gender equity for women faculty, students and staff; the dimensions that need to be addressed to correct these obstacles. The committee is working in conjunction with the Diversity Leadership Council on areas that affect women and underrepresented minorities. Representatives from across Johns Hopkins head up seven subcommittees: faculty, staff, students, case history, organizational culture, business case for gender equity and institutional research.

Question: What is Johns Hopkins doing to support female faculty, staff and students?

Answer: Since 1985, there have been at least 50 university committees on the status of women and at least 30 reports have been written. Each of those reports noted inequities, bias and discrimination at Johns Hopkins and have recommended corrective action, of which a number of interventions have been implemented. The University Committee on the Status of Women (UCSOW) was established in 2002.

We reviewed past data collected by Johns Hopkins committees, as well as the research completed by a number of divisional committees who are at Hopkins. There were many initiatives going at once. And we tried to make links with the individual school task forces, which were primarily focused on looking at issues specific to their schools or divisions. We were trying to look at the issue from the larger Johns Hopkins University perspective. We also looked at similar studies done at Harvard and Yale and conducted new studies of JHU students, faculty and staff.

Question: What did the research reveal to the committee?

Answer:  More than 20 years of analyses at JHU and nationally indicates that there are clear etiologic factors, or root causes, by which women are disadvantaged in their academic careers. Previous reports on the status of women have focused on symptom-based analyses—analyses of salary differences, promotion rates, lab space and the like. However, our current analyses indicate that approaches to date have had little impact at the level of individual university divisions.

An innovative aspect of our committee’s work was to characterize root causes of gender-based obstacles to career success and satisfaction. This was a huge undertaking. We identified three root causes of gender-based obstacles—gender schemas where women are undervalued, under-recognized and under-rewarded for their contributions; leadership stereotyping at Hopkins consists of an image of leadership that is male, works 24/7 and has a spouse at home who takes care of other things; and issues with the work-life balance and tenure process. An unwritten code of conduct minimizes the importance of creating a balance between work and life. This puts women at a disadvantage. The timeline of the tenure process is also an enormous impediment to women because the schedule is structured with male careers in mind. It doesn’t take into consideration family obligations.

Question: How does the culture impact the number of women in leadership positions?

Answer: Based on substantial evaluations, the faculty sub-committee identified the under-representation of women in leadership positions as a core issue. However, we also recognized that there are several other important issues and we included these in the UCSOW report. To conduct an objective analysis, we used several approaches.

We summarized the evidence of root causes and manifestation of gender-based obstacles from Status of Women faculty reports from this institution and from other academic institutions. We completed an analysis of institutional and national data about representation of women full time faculty at Johns Hopkins University and, for comparison, at the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE) Universities. Several focus group interviews with senior women faculty were held to gauge their perceptions of gender-based obstacles for leadership roles.

At the end of the study, the committee concluded that an area of particular concern is the persistent dearth of women leaders at Johns Hopkins, in comparison to the eligible pool of tenured women. This dearth of women leaders, both academic and administrative, is no longer a pipeline issue. Qualified women in substantial numbers have been available for the academic pipeline for 20 years. Despite that, there is still low representation of women at senior levels. This suggests the need to evaluate the culture, institutional policies and practices to ensure that these are not contributing to this persistent gender gap.

Question: How does the Bloomberg School measure up in terms of the number of male versus female faculty and administrators?

Answer: Overall, the female representation at the Bloomberg School of Public Health is almost even. Forty-nine percent of our full-time faculty members are women. However, the majority of women are in non-tenure track positions, such as research associate, instructor and scientist. Women make up only 26 percent of the full-time professors at the Bloomberg School. Fifty-five percent of our associate deans are women, which is promising. But, just two of our eight academic departments are lead by women.

Question: What is the next step?

Answer: I’m pleased that changes have already started to happen. In fall 2006, presentations were made by UCSOW committee members to the JHU administration, as well as at each individual school and division. Dean [of the Bloomberg School of Public Health Michael J.] Klag has already created an ad hoc Committee on the Status of Women, which is chaired by Judith Kasper [a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management] to assess priorities for implementing the UCSOW recommendations.

Question: What did the UCSOW committee recommend as specific steps to address gender in equity?

Answer: By 2020, we recommend that 50 percent of all professors and administrative leaders be women. Johns Hopkins should also ensure equitable recognition for women and establish a work/life balance. The committee also suggested that a leadership position and/or office be created that will be responsible for implementing our recommendations, monitor change and accomplish significant organizational change. And, finally, the University needs to commit substantial resources to meet these goals.

The Vision 2020 final report can be found here.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna L. Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or