Glass Ceiling or Sticky Floor?

The theory used to go that women occupied fewer of the top ranks  of academic medicine because fewer women possessed the necessary experience. The so-called “pipeline” problem has improved over the past decade as women make up half of all medical students. Yet, the proportion of women at the full professor level has not reached parity.

An NIH-funded study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine will apply the rigorous methods of drug trials to study the advancement of women in academic medicine. The investigators have randomly assigned different departments to an intervention and a control group. Junior women faculty in the intervention group will participate in two professional development programs: a manuscript writing course and a leadership training.

After four years, the investigators will gauge what they call the “Women’s Academic Culture Measure.” For them, the important unit of change is the department or division. They recognize that the obstacles to female faculty’s success are diffuse, what one researcher calls “a thousand pound of feathers.” Creating significant opportunities for all faculty will involve shifting not just individual minds but institutional culture.

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