Written by Gavrielle Jacobovitz
Edited by Juliana Kim, Maya Perry
Art by Diane Kim
Photography by Arielle Shternfeld
Graphics by Alondra Aguilar
Two months ago, on the tucked away 15th floor of Columbia’s International Affairs Building, five women from the Commission on the Status of Women take the floor to present a study on the leaking pipeline at the College of Physicians and Surgeons—the first of its kind.
The women are reserved, and their presentation resounds in the room of predominantly Morningside campus attendees. They present diagrams—detailed descriptions on the structure and leadership process at the uptown campus—to ensure everyone follows along. It’s February 2, 2018—the first University Senate plenary of the semester.
The study aims to understand the (lack of) progression of female faculty at P&S, identify leaks in this pipeline, and ascertain potential solutions to the broken pipeline. The Resolution on Academic Freedom will soon pass, and Bollinger is in attendance—which is more likely the reason for such a crowd.
In the coming weeks, many of the professors I speak with will not have heard of the study or its results. I am not at this senate plenary, I didn’t even know it was happening. Most students didn’t.
The next session, on February 23, is my first time at a senate plenary and my second time ever visiting Columbia University Medical Center. The plenary is in the School of Nursing, in a room with tall windows that broadcast miles of city dusted in fog. The third—and the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth, and the seventh—time I visit the medical school campus is to speak to women who work there, to wander the bare halls of the hospital building, to learn that every woman’s office is remarkably unique, and, unlike the character of the buildings themselves, to get lost meandering the pathways that connect the many buildings to one another.
In the College of Physicians and Surgeons, faculty status is a leaking pipeline—women continue to occupy the slim minority of tenure and leadership positions, which has wide reaching implications on their professional and personal lives. Even with renewed efforts from the school to address this since 2007, it seems the disparity in leadership in the school is not yet healing.
When Dr. Estela Area Gomez began her undergrad career, in her hometown of Galicia in the north of Spain, she wanted to save the whales. This was until she discovered molecular biology, which she fell in love with. It felt more like a hobby, she says, than school or work, and she left behind her previous aspiration to become an environmental policy maker to pursue it.
During her doctoral studies, she began to doubt whether this was a field she could pursue—that, maybe, she did not want to be a principal investigator. She told this to her mentor: “And he looked at me,” she recounts, and her mentor told her this was the same as saying she’s not ready to be a grandmother: Wait and see. “That’s the best advice that anybody [has ever] told me.”
We sit in her office in the Physicians and Surgeons building one murky Tuesday morning. It has baby purple walls and deep red desks, a Dracula movie poster on the wall, and a collection of dolls along the windowsill. The office feels like an anomalous offshoot of the hospital’s lingering hallways, where stark fluorescent lights stain white walls and off-white floor tiles. It is behind a small lipid analysis facility, which Area Gomez manages, due to a shortage of space on the floor above. The lab machinery buzzes and fizzles and hums, a steady rumble that scores our conversation.
Area Gomez, who wears thick-rimmed glasses and has an incisive tone, tells stories that wander, with resolute conviction. She has prepared for our conversation with a list.
Area Gomez is an internal promotion in the Department of Neurology, meaning she completed her postdoc there and is now a Primary Investigator and assistant professor on tenure track. She is a member of the Taub Alzheimer Institute, Modern Neuron Center, and Merritt Center at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. She studies Alzheimer’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain injury.
When you’re promoted internally, Area Gomez describes with irritation, “you are at the bottom of the feeding pyramid.” There’s a lack of recognition—that is, Area Gomez feels that many peers and supervisors will never see her as “independent.” People will always suspect that it’s her mentor’s idea, that he’s just being nice and letting a postdoc carry his own ideas, she says. Her postdoc mentor works just one floor up.
This lack of independence is in spite of the fact that she has her own grants with her own lines of research, K01 and R01 awards from the National Institutes of Health.
Area Gomez went to her supervisors and asked what she has to do for independence. They said that she needed her own papers and her own grants. “I have my own grants, I have my own papers.” So, she went back and asked again—what could she do to fix this perception. She had to be invited to conferences, they said—yet she has been.
At last, she went to her chairman. He told her she had to leave; Area Gomez asked around, to see if this really was her only option, if those around her who were also internal hires faced the same problems.
Area Gomez spoke with male colleagues who had been postdocs with the same PI, who had never, ever, been accused of being non-independent. Some men from other labs laughed at the thought of it. “They were never advised to be careful of not being perceived as not being independent, because there’s no such doubt when you are a man.”
Area Gomez received some advice from supervisors she turned to for help that she tells me I will laugh at.
“They told me to dress appropriately, to put on makeup, to be taken seriously.” Her colleagues who are male, she says, of course are not given this recommendation. She quickly points to the jeans she is wearing and laughs—she hasn’t felt the need to conform quite as rigidly as some may expect of her.
She was told to be more assertive to succeed in science. And yet she feels she must toe the line between what is perceived as decisively assertive, and what is framed as aggressive. English is not her first language, Area Gomez says—she doesn’t use convoluted language. “Meaning I’m pretty straightforward.” And, “I’m not afraid of speaking up.”
“So, I was assertive,” she reflects, hands flat on the table and leaning forward. Area Gomez began “behaving like a man, as they say. Okay. So, now I’ve become a bitch.”
It’s perception on all fronts: from the people that decide whether or not she’s independent, from those who determine the future of her career. And, according to Area Gomez, she is evaluated by men over seventy, who were raised at a time when a majority of women were housewives.
One of these men in leadership told her that women are very good at science, she recounts, but when a man is good, it’s better.
Her story feels almost too anachronistic to belong in a self-proclaimed progressive institution, in self-proclaimed progressive New York City. And, yet, this is the point.
Area Gomez is on track to become one of the few tenured women at P&S, where only 17 percent of faculty tenured in the basic sciences, and only 23 percent in the clinical science, are women, in a department where only 25 percent of divisional chiefs are women.
She is part of the Medical Center—where from 2017-2018, 350 of 728 medical students enrolled were women and from 2016-2017, eight more women graduated than men, and from 2017 to 2018, 53 percent of matriculants were women. Though 44 out of 119 Ph.D.s enrolled were women in 2017-2018, P&S more broadly experiences relative gender parity on the medical school level. And yet, the majority of its leaders are men.
In 2001 and 2015, the Senate endeavored a similar undertaking to the Committee in 2018, but for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The 2001 University Senate Report, for instance, titled “Advancement of Women Through the Academic Ranks of the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences: Where are the Leaks in the Pipeline,” identified that there were more women in lower status roles in the University than higher.
Former Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences David Madigan, who recently stepped down from his position, told Spectator when he first began his position in 2013: “We have a wonderfully diverse student body. We have an appallingly undiverse faculty.”
These numbers in 2013 reflect a clear, if unhurried, increase in the percent of tenured women. But those initial distributions from 2001 are troublingly similar to those of P&S in fall 2017, when of tenured faculty, 17 percent of the basic health sciences and 23 percent of the clinical health sciences were women—while of tenure-eligible faculty, 32 percent of the basic sciences and 41 percent of the clinical health sciences were women.
I speak with Jeanine D’Armiento, who is an associate professor of medicine in anaesthesiology and chair of the University Senate Commission on the Status of Women, who led the P&S Senate Pipeline Study. D’Armiento, who has dark brown hair and a soft voice, decided to be a doctor when she was nine or ten, after her grandmother died because she did not get proper treatment.
“We were surprised,” D’Armiento reflects, “because people will say, ‘Oh, that’s because people are not tenured.’ But this was also seen at the tenured level. It was a little disappointing to see that the tenured women were also just as dissatisfied.”
The study revealed a lack of satisfaction among female tenured and untenured faculty at P&S that appears to be institutional and systemic.
According to the study, from 2007 to 2017, the number of female faculty increased by 30 percent (compared to a 4 percent increase in male faculty), but “the greatest increases have been seen on the non-tenure track.” In fact, women comprise of 51 percent of non-tenure track faculty. Yet, there is a four to one ratio of tenured men to women.
The study revealed a drastic and deeply ingrained disparity in leadership in P&S, in addition to tenured faculty—specifically, looking at chiefs and chairs in certain fields. The percentages of female divisional chiefs were all below 50 percent: 33.3 percent in Anesthesiology, 25 percent in Neurology, 18.2 percent in Radiology, 16.7 percent in Surgery, and 15.4 percent in Medicine. To compare, Pediatrics is composed of 46.7 percent female chiefs, with Obstetrics and Gynecology at 50 percent.
It seems the pipeline is thin and leaking from the start. In 2016-2017, of tenured faculty, 17.1 percent of professors and 25.5 percent of associate professors were women. But for the tenure-track faculty, while the still-measly 40 percent of assistant professors were women, merely 18.8 percent of associate professors and 25 percent of professors were women.
More than merely raw numbers, the Pipeline Study also provided the results of a comprehensive quality of life survey, tracing the structural and personal causes and implications of these figures. This quality of life survey had a 41 percent response rate, which Geraldine McAllister, director of the University Senate, who sits by D’Armiento’s side in this Low Library conference room, mentions is a “huge response rate,” making this a “fairly representative survey.”
“The most content faculty member,” McAllister notes of the 2015-2016 quality of life survey, is a white male on Morningside with tenure. And the least content faculty member: both tenured or tenure-track women at CUMC.
At P&S, “more female faculty are dissatisfied with resources to support their research and scholarship than are satisfied,” at 38.3 percent, and the same can be said of support for clinical duties, at 40.4 percent, for instance.
And with the severe lack of representation of women in power at the school, the question arises: How are women implicated? The survey asked women if they feel they had a “voice in the decision-making that affects the direction of my department/school.” 61 percent of female P&S faculty said no.
The Vice Dean of Academic Affairs Anne Taylor agrees there is room to improve, but characterizes Columbia’s rate of promoting tenure-track faculty as higher than other schools and disagrees with the criteria used by the commission for evaluation.
I raise Taylor’s concerns to her some weeks later in her office on the first floor of the P&S buildings, where pictures and paintings of cellos hang on walls. Taylor wanted to be a musician before pursuing cardiology and becoming the first woman cardiology fellow at the University of Chicago and first woman and African American in the cardiology division at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
She quickly changes the direction of the question. The Senate numbers are “all wonky,” she says. She’d rather focus on the goal. “The leadership at P&S, Dean [Lee] Goldman, myself, all agree that our goal is to reach a position of gender parity in faculty. It’s been easier in overall faculty. It’s been more difficult in chair searches, and in some other leadership positions. But we’re making progress in all of those.”
I ask D’Armiento if she’s ever felt her gender was a barrier to her success. She pauses, placing her hands firmly on the paper on the conference table and looks to McAllister. At last, she responds: “I think, my career is reflective of what you see in these statistics.”
Area Gomez speaks to me at length about her experiences marked by her gender. Trying to be assertive gets her labeled as a bitch by her superiors. Trying to gain her independence becomes framed as conflictive, and, “pardon my French,” a pain in the ass.
But her experience balancing the necessary assertiveness to advance in her career with the implicit and explicit limitation of this behavior for women is not unique. Many of the female faculty members I speak to at a range of departments at P&S with a variety of female to male leadership gaps express the same sentiment—women face structural and personal barriers to their advancement, stretching beyond what is discernible on paper.
“That’s our field. That’s exactly our field,” D’Armiento responds when I ask if she’s perceived a difficulty for women in toeing the line between being told to be assertive to advance in one’s career and being, quote on quote, too assertive.
Sandra Barral Rodriguez, who is an assistant professor of neurogenetics in the department of neurology, agrees. “Aggressivity is a skill for a man. Something good. You know, he’s aggressive, he’s ambitious,” she says in her office. On the walls is a mother’s day card, and a world map, and colorful pictures drawn by children. “Aggressivity in a woman is seen in a completely different lens,” she continues. “Which is, I’m conflictive. I’m a conflictive person.” She feels that there is an unspoken—and spoken—double standard of sort.
She’s been in “a thousand meetings,” she says, “where you encounter dismissive responses from your [male] peers.”
“There are still those implicit biases,” Jinsy Andrews says, who at first try will put these biases “diplomatically,” but then concludes that that is the problem. She’s the director of Neuromuscular Trials and assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, and is on the tenure track.
“I am doing a little dance to be assertive but not being construed as aggressive or the B-word,” Andrews reflects. She feels that sometimes she must go with the flow in group settings, especially as she is outnumbered as a woman.
“I’m very outspoken, being from New York,” Andrews laughs. “And it’s funny because I’ve actually had people say to me that I’m flamboyant. I was so offended—I’m not flamboyant. I just speak what I think. But I don’t think they would have said that about a guy.” In the upper echelons of her field, she says, it’s “a little bit of a boys club.”
These brandings of women—that make negotiation, leadership, day to day interactions—filtered through gendered prejudice, can intersect with racial bias for racialized minorities in P&S.
Notably, the College of Physicians and Surgeons does not just face a gender disparity in leadership, but also a severe racial disparity. Columbia does not release any data specifying the specific racial breakdown of tenured faculty at P&S, but an egregious 12 percent of tenured faculty in the basic sciences are “minority,” and 15 percent in clinical health sciences. That is, a woman who is a racialized minority faces an even greater lack of representation than does a white woman.
“I’ve been accused of being angry,” recounts Jennifer Manly, an associate professor of neuropsychology in the department of neurology and, like Area Gomez and Barall Rodriguez, a member of the Taub Institute. Manly researches racial, ethnic, linguistic, and socioeconomic disparities in cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s disease. It really made her think. “I really did a lot of soul searching. Am I really an angry person?” Ultimately, Manly came to understand the racial dynamics that created these perceptions. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute—I’m no angrier than anyone else around here. It’s just, I’m a black woman.’”
More recently, Manly was involved in a “scientific issue” with Alzheimer’s disease. She received certain advice from peers and superiors that she suspects was filtered by her gender and race. They warned her not to be an “angry black woman” in her reaction to the controversy. To work with them rather than against them.
“Would you give that [advice] to a white man? I don’t know.” Manly says that compared to her white male peers, she faces a “greater danger of being misperceived.”
Perception, Area Gomez told me, and told again, is the problem.
It makes positions of leadership for women especially difficult—for PIs leading labs, for chairs leading faculty. “If you don’t behave like a mommy, you’re a bitch,” Area Gomez says of her own predicament as a PI. Some think she’s only an administrator in the lab, especially with her Spanish accent.
Donna Farber is in her eighth year at Columbia—an immunologist with a joint appointment in the department of microbiology and immunology, an associate director for the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology, and the division chief of surgical sciences. That is to say, she’s tenured. Farber says its the men that are still making the rules, which affects meetings. “Women will get interrupted at faculty meetings,” she tells me. “They ask fewer questions at seminars, [they’re] more likely to be interrupted by a guy.”
“All women”—in the neurology and pathology department—“we know that this happens, and we know who’s who,” Gomez says. Meetings, for some women in P&S, are where misogyny and the implications of lack of female leadership manifest most tangibly. “I mean we actually advise each other, ‘don’t sit next to this guy because he’s going to be looking at your cleavage all the time’ or,” she explains, “‘No, he’s the kind of guy who’s going to think women [belong] in the kitchen,’ a sentence that I already heard, too.”
Manly reveals she thought about the way in which women’s voices are treated in her department after I first emailed her. “And it’s usually lopsided. If a woman speaks out about an idea,” she observes, “it really often happens—it’s very interesting to observe—that it doesn’t get amplified unless a man repeats it and takes it on as [his] own.” It’s constant, she says, a constant struggle women are and must be aware of.
In addition to more explicit silencing by colleagues, women face the ramifications of, often, being dramatically outnumbered by men in meetings. Ruth Ottman, who is the deputy director for research at the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center at P&S, says during the department chair meetings, “there are very few women in the room,” compared to during “usual daily activities,” which “have a lot of women that are fellow faculty members.” She feels this is indicative of the way in which women have a much smaller presence in the leadership than junior faculty levels.
“Bottom line,” Area Gomez explains the last time we meet: as a woman, “I’m not part of the club.”
The percent of tenure-track women in P&S has increased by 2.5 percent since 2007, to 37.7 percent. The percent of tenured women increased, since 2007, by 0.6 percent, to 18.8 percent. It seems this pipeline is not merely leaking but is also clogged. Barall Rodriguez terms it a “bottleneck.”
Lee Goldman, dean of the Medical School, says its numbers are slightly higher than the Senate study, at 22 percent women in tenure. He mentions that the lack of development in numbers is indicative of disparities in faculty progress from ten years ago, before he came to Columbia in 2007. As the tenure process takes eight to ten years, he argues that statistical progress can take decades. Goldman also notes that only 20 percent of professors are looking for tenure in the first place.
“I expect that one day I’m going to get kicked out [of the tenure track],” Area Gomez reflects frankly. “And I will never know why, while my male colleagues pushed out of the tenure track know why.”
Andrews mentions that when a woman is promoted to tenure, the school is very good at letting everyone know. They’re not so transparent, however, about how to get there. Andrews trained as a fellow in neuromuscular and electrodiagnostic medicine at Columbia—and in between then and now, left the institution to pursue a fellowship. After the fellowship, she was promoted to assistant professor but not onto the tenure track. At the time, it was unclear to her how to approach the tenure process, and what it all meant.
At the time of her fellowship, she did not have children. In the time between leaving and returning to Columbia, she had gotten married and had a child. “It was totally unexpected,” she says. “I told everybody I was never getting married, and that’s why I was going into research.”
After her first child, she was able to find a sponsor who helped her develop her career. Then, she had another child. She now has three children—ages six, nine, and 12. Finding the balance between her career and her children began to be more difficult.
She left Columbia for a higher position with a larger pay grade as director of clinical trials at the University of Connecticut Hospital for Special Care in central Connecticut. Andrews felt that in this position she was not overshadowed by senior professors in the same way she had been at Columbia, and she had the autonomy to speak up. After a short time at Connecticut, a smaller Biotech company in California recruited her to develop a compound for neuromuscular diseases, and she took the offer as director of clinical research and development. At this point, Andrews had her third child. “I actually had other women who were more senior than me basically tell me that I was committing academic career suicide,” she explains.
In 2016, she was recruited back to the University as director of neuromuscular clinical trials, this time on tenure track. When she was first offered the position, she was “hesitant a little bit,” but notes that the culture has “since evolved” in terms of there being more “openness of the discussion about the gender disparity.” Nonetheless, she continues to face a level of tacit stigma. “I sacrifice some style and some make up,” Andrews laughs, “and dying my hair to try to have both. I can’t say it’s easy, but it’s attainable.”
While Andrews had heard the school would be supportive, she didn’t feel that was the case for her. She was expected to work late, she says, to work on weekends—just speaking with me meant working around her child’s Taekwondo class, she says. Sometimes, Andrews feels she struggles to get the support that maintaining a family requires—getting more flexibility in her schedule, for instance, or supervisors and colleagues being understanding to the specific challenges she faces.
The week that I speak with her, she hurt her knee after all three of her children had the stomach flu, and on her third night without sleep, she slipped on the vomit and ended up in the emergency room. It’s meant she’s been a little behind on a paper.
Ultimately, a component of empathy is missing for the lived experiences of a woman raising a family as a direct consequence of such overwhelmingly male leadership. Andrews feels she has to be able to “hang with the guys.” “I hate to say it this way—not be too girly, you know,” she notes. To sit in a meeting, “I have to be pretty direct, not too [many] emotions, no swing[ing] back and forth, try to avoid the conflict, and try to negotiate my way forward. And there’s no—‘Hey Jinsy, I heard it was your son’s birthday this week.’”
Andrew has noticed the tenure process become more transparent. For instance, she’s sat in junior faculty workshops, learning “what tenure is, how to get promoted, what actually goes on in the background.”
For postdoctoral research scientists, raising a child is a particularly precarious feat. They do not receive the benefits that a tenure or tenure track faculty member does, and with an average salary of less than $50,000 ($47,476, minus the rarely given, but often promised, $3,000 stipend), affordable child care can be challenging to find.
The University’s Postdoc Handbook notes that childcare in private centers for children two and under will cost around $3,000 per month, and for children aged two to five, around $2,300 per month.
“It’s more expensive to hire a nanny than to stop working,” says Medini Annavajhala, a postdoc in the Infectious Diseases Division and an organizer in the Postdoctoral Workers Union. We sit in the CUMC school store, next to broad glass windows, and talk over the cacophony of old pop music playing on loop.
P&S tenure-track is a long, arduous process. For some, it is anxiety-inducing; for others, it feels impossible. Tenure track at CUMC is a seven to 11 year process. (For basic scientists and faculty without clinical responsibilities the tenure clock is eight years long, for clinical scientists with at least 20 percent of their responsibilities being clinical work it is 11 years).
The clock begins either when a faculty member is hired on the tenure track, or when they are moved from the “At CUMC” track to tenure track. Faculty need to receive grants, to publish, and to be perceived as independent. In their fourth year, they must present their research progress for reviews.
Finally, in the seventh or 10th year—decision year—there is a departmental review. In departamental review, the department will or will not recommend the candidate to advance to the CUMC’s Committee On Appointments Promotions stage. They will then review whether or not to recommend these candidates to the school dean and executive vice president. The Tenure Review Advisory Committee will then make recommendations, as part of a University wide review, to the provost, the president, and the trustees. TRAC will review many things, including, but not limited to, a review a letter from the EVP and Dean, a letter from the school-level review committee, a case statement analysis including an assessment of nominee’s qualifications, a statement from the nominee, teaching evaluations, course syllabi, student letters of support, recommendations from witnesses. At this point, the faculty member will have reached the end of this process.
In 2016-2017, TRAC approved tenure applications of 80 percent of cases it heard—78.26 percent after one hearing.
Authorship on papers can influence a tenure track nominee’s application’s strength, yet the decision on whose names appear first on the author line is gendered as well. “I’ve seen male postdocs, or faculty members feel more empowered to ask for that higher position,” Annavajhala explains. “Whereas, often women, because of society’s standards, we just are told to be grateful for what you can get.”
If a tenure-track nominee’s application is not approved, they may be transferred to a non-tenured status, or have their faculty status unrenewed.
Ottman is a tenured researcher, meaning her tenure clock was shorter than a physicians’. Hers was ten years, though today a faculty member in her position would have to spend seven years to get tenure. Faculty on a tenure track feel pressure to publish and to get grants. “The pressure’s pretty intense to get tenure in such a short time period,” she recounts.
Area Gomez feels there is a misconception of the cause of bias against women in research. She doesn’t have children, like many others in her position, and feels women are often falsely blamed for sacrificing their career for children.
When Manly, now tenured, asked for tenure from her then-department chair, she was asked why she wanted it and told it didn’t matter that much. Tenure, put simply, means that a faculty member is granted a term appointment for a predetermined amount of time and, in this time, they cannot be dismissed from the University. The type of research she did—clinical—was not something that warranted tenure, she says. “Like, yes, it does. It does mean something here. And what it means is that in my field, my peers, my University, recognizes my importance to this field and to this institution.”
Manly notices that the women trainees are beginning to outnumber the men. But the discrepancy in leadership persists. Female students, Manly says, “don’t see their gender reflected in [their] leadership.”
“And I think that that does create a situation where many times the concerns that women have in their career are not understood by the people who have decision making power over their career,” she says over the phone.
Notably, Farber, Divisional Chief in the Surgical Sciences, feels that—while the message sent to students with the lack of representation is problematic—in practice, P&S is “a very collegial environment.”
In addition to its effects on students, Barall Rodriguez notes the implications on faculty themselves, primarily that those controlling her career cannot relate to her or her life experiences: “Positions of power [in academia] are held by these old white men. Decisions regarding the department—appointments, promotions, everything, are mostly decided by men.”
This includes who is assigned tenure track and who’s not. Tenure is not a transparent process, she says, which amplifies concerns that women’s perspectives are not being represented in the process. “How many steps need to be taken for [tenure]? And, each of these steps, how many committees there are, and what is the composition of those committees? How many women are deciding those?”
“No one explains mechanistically, logistically, the number of committees, number of steps,” Barral Rodriguez adds. “It’s a very obscure process.” For her evaluation for a committee, for instance, she recounts that the entire committee was men. “There are not that many [women] in this department. You count them.” She does count them, on her fingers.
A lack of transparency in the tenure process appears to be common among women I spoke with. Area Gomez, also in the neurology department, feels the dismissal of women from the tenure track is part of an opaque process, from beginning to end. “If you make a rule about what you need to [do to] become tenured,” she asserts, “make the rule for everybody. Make it understandable, for everybody.”
When she turned to mentors about how to be perceived as independent as an internal hire, they told her something along the lines of: “Estela, I’m sorry. You can never forget that you’re a woman in a world of man.”
With a lack of transparency in the tenure track, those who face implicit biases often face the most harm.
When I read the statistics from the fall 2017 report of the percentage of tenured faculty in P&S—and ask where the leaks in the pipeline are—she explains that only around 12 percent of faculty at Columbia is tenured. There’s little mobility in this field, she says, and even though P&S is committed to gender diversity, it’s not realistic to simply “fire all these folks.”
“It’s really a marathon and not a sprint,” Taylor concludes.
Gender disparity of chairs and chiefs, Taylor says, on the clinical side, where tenure is less relevant, “has been a source of frustration for us and something we do work at continually.” She mentions she’d like to correct something in the Senate study, and Goldman confirms this when I speak to him. Searches are, in fact, national—they use a professional search firm and advertise in national journals. Goldman adds that they often will specifically look for a woman or underrepresented minority. “Again,” Taylor emphasizes, “It’s a work in progress, we’re not done yet.”
Last year was the first year when more women were enrolled in medical school in the United States than men. Women have been around 35 percent of tenure-track faculty at P&S for the past ten years, and only 18 percent of tenured faculty. This has not changed. So, where have they gone?
Manly sees the pause of the tenure clock after having a child as more than a band-aid solution, but a small piece of a very complex web of issues.
“I think the larger issue here is that we all need to step back, and everyone needs to ask, ‘Is women’s work in academia valued?’” she says. “‘Is it valued differently?’”
Some women have chosen not to pursue the tenure track in the first place. Bain, who is an M.D. Ph.D., feels “scared-off.” It seems too difficult to balance with the clinical side of her profession, and she hasn’t had “much support to go down [the tenure] route.”
“I’m not going to go towards tenure because I feel like I’ll be set up for failure,” Bain admits.
As women progress through positions in rank, they face a myriad of systemic barriers. They replicate and re-entrench their meager representation. “Networks are really important in science,” Farber explains. “Succeeding in science means that you’re getting NIH funding, that you’re getting your papers in the good journals, and all that depends on peer review—people have to know you.” She says that “these networks are still dominated by men.”
“I think there’s an old boys network, but there isn’t yet an old girls network.”
To fix a leaking pipe, you will first turn off the water supply valve and drain the water line. You will then cut about an inch off the pipe with a cutter. It will come off if you rotate the cutter in the right way. You will need a tube cutter. You may need a propane torch. It is not very easy to fix a leaking pipe.
When I ask D’Armiento why there are women are dropping out of the tenure-track, she redirects the conversation. “We don’t see them entering,” she says. The medical school has full gender parity. Residency has slightly less but relative parity. “So why are less women put on tenure track?”
Manly says this disparity starts forming “from the very start.” Girls in STEM fields are “subtly discouraged” from this academic pursuit. Women interested in science, she says, will only see men represented in leadership. The chairs in her department are all white men. (Goldman says the Committee On Appointments Promotions committee is 40 percent women). When she first realized she wanted to be a scientist, “labs were headed by men, the grad students I worked with were men.” For her, the lack of female mentors is a direct problem precipitated by these circumstances.
Anna Chen, a senior in Columbia College studying biology and psychology, works in Mimi Shirasu-Hiza’s lab researching the intersection between circadian rhythm, aging, and immunity. “One of the draws of the lab for me as a sophomore,” she says, “was the fact that it was run by a female PI.” She’s been a “great mentor” to her, she says. “It’s really inspiring to see someone in STEM who is paving her own way in the field.”
“I think it’s very empowering,” Gabriella Belnavis, a senior at Barnard studying physiology and biology, and working in the Haeusler Lab in CUMC says, on having a female PI, Rebecca Haeusler, in her lab studying the connection between cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Mentorship has been identified by P&S as a potential means to alleviate this disparity. Taylor shows me P&S’s “Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring,” for instance, which highlights literature on the importance of mentorship and delineates the school’s own efforts on this front.
Mentoring strengthens research productivity and teaching effectiveness, and also increases faculty retention, recruitment, productivity and satisfaction, according to P&S’s Guide. The guide identifies 10 characteristics of effective mentoring: clear career goals, tangible deliverables and timelines, roles for each mentor, concrete rules for meetings, accountability and oversight, confidentiality when asked, communication mechanisms and open communication, measurement of progress, a feedback system, and support for eventual academic independence.
The guide also offers an analysis of the specific impact that mentoring has on women and racialized minorities. For instance, it notes that female and minority faculty specifically face “unconscious bias, lack of institutional support, feelings of isolation, poorer-quality mentoring relationships, absence of sponsorship, work/life imbalance, and cultural, societal, and institutional norms.” Without sponsorship and peer networks, women face perpetuation of these challenges. Through “Mentoring Programs for Women Faculty” in P&S, faculty can receive Peer and NearPeer Mentoring, as well as Group Mentoring, and Sponsorship, for which women can apply for through the Virginia Kneeland Frantz Society for Women Faculty.
Area Gomez recognizes the importance of mentorship but feels that the mentors in the senior generation in her department have been primarily male. It means that those who are guiding her through her career will not understand her unique position as a woman. “They cannot make the decision for women. Of course not,” she says. “They will never be objective. It’s as easy as that.” She reveals that she knows of women who have left their labs because their mentors were “horrible.” “Nobody teaches us [PIs] to be a mentor,” Area Gomez explains. “Nobody checks whether we are good managers or good mentors.”
Rather than fix the opinions of those who hold prejudiced view points, she suggests adding more women to those positions. “I’m not going to ask my mentors—[who] are senior male faculty—to change their point of view,” she says. It’s a consequence of a life of acculturation. “But they cannot be in charge of shaping the next generation of tenured professors.
Andrews agrees that the older generation of mentors doesn’t always understand her specific needs as a younger woman and mother.
“I think mentoring is a big limitation at Columbia, especially as a woman,” Bain explains, having been both a mentee and a mentor. “You really have to be proactive in the mentor-mentee role,” Bain explains of her experiences having occupied both positions.
Ottman sees herself as a role model to other women in her department—especially those who are going through the tenure process. Rather than mentoring them to take on these higher leadership positions, she feels she more serves as a “supporter of them during that process.” She did not have that sort of mentorship in this process; she did, however, have a mentor that helped inspire her career early on.
As a graduate student at Berkeley, she found a professor she was interested in working with, one who ultimately became a prominent geneticist, and who became a role model to her. “I think it was important to me to have a female mentor at that time, actually.”
“There’s a lack of mentorship in this institution,” Barall Rodriguez asserts. “A lot of very senior mentors do not know how to mentor. Across the spectrum. And specifically, [P&S has] a lack of emotional or mentorship of women. Absolutely.”
D’Armiento recommends sponsorship as an alternative to mentorship—she sent me an article on the subject the night before I speak to her. “Mentorship talks about what you yourself do,” she says, “where a sponsorship will promote that woman, and try to move [her] through the ranks of the institution.” She sees both this and greater accountability in CUMC as important to promoting women to higher levels.
Frantz founded Columbia’s multidisciplinary thyroid clinic and contributed significantly to scientific advances in tumors and cancer. In some photographs of her time on faculty of the department of surgery, she is the only woman.
The Virginia Kneeland Frantz Society for Women Faculty was created under Taylor a few years ago in an effort to promote and celebrate female faculty in CUMC. “We thought that she was a great symbol to rally around if you will,” Taylor explains, “and to name our society after.”
The Society sponsors programs for women faculty, like peer mentoring, leadership training, medicine networking events, and panels. For the “Women in Leadership in the 21st Century University” panel, Taylor was “widely honored to have President Bollinger in attendance.”
For many of the women doctors I speak to, these programs are the first thing they think of when asked about efforts by P&S to alleviate the implicit and explicit biases that women face in the workplace. However, while many feel they are useful and impactful, some feel they are not enough. Bain feels balancing her hectic work schedule and family means that while in theory these programs sound helpful, she is unable to find the time to attend.
Barall Rodriguez feels there needs to be more standardization in education for male faculty members, rather than merely instruction for women on how to navigate these gendered dynamics. “Great. Let’s empower women, let’s have courses for women on how to deal with these environments,” she remarks. “What about men? Can we teach them? Can we actually train them them to change these archaic views of women?”
She then becomes more direct: It’s not enough for only women to be expected to resolve the structural and episodic oppression they face. “Can we do courses for men where they teach them telling your co-worker that dress looks great on her in the middle of a meeting where she’s discussing her research?It’s not appropriate man. I mean, really.”
“We sit in the classes for leadership,” D’Armiento concludes on these courses. “But the men get the leadership jobs. While we’re sitting and taking our courses, they’re getting promoted.”
This week, the Committee who wrote the Pipeline Study are meeting with Taylor and her office to discuss next steps. They will offer sponsorship and transparency as two tangible proposals. In late April, they will present their new proposals to the senate again. Many of the women I spoke to did not know that the study ever came out. Maybe this time, they will.
When structural deficiencies in professional settings arise, many women feel the need to take matters into their own hands. Every week that she is not on a plane or giving a talk, Manly speaks with two other African-American women who are working in cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s disease. “We talk about our struggle, what we’re working on, the successes that we have—like if we recently negotiated with our boss, how that went, how we prepared.” Maybe they’re working on a presentation they’re nervous for and want advice.
They call it Sister Circle.
Women physicians and researchers, it seems, will sometimes turn outside the University when they cannot find the support they need within. Bain, a pediatric neurology attending, tells me about a Facebook group (“You’ve heard of Facebook. Yes, I’m so old saying that!”) for physicians who are also mothers.
She says there are thousands of women in this group, who talk about many things, including disparities in medicine. “It’s certainly come up out there in terms of why aren’t we making as much money overall and trying to really push forward.
Bain also mentions a program created by Jessica Schulte, the chief resident in the neurology department next year: a women in neurology empowerment series. There were seminars on navigating finances and negotiating salaries, she recounts.
Women must take these matters into their own hands—especially when they perceive that there is no transparent or effective structure to do so. And, the power dynamics that already exist when a career is dependent on a boss or professional superior are amplified by disparate gender imbalances. For many women—as the #MeToo movement has brought to national spotlight—sexual and psychological gendered harassment is a reality they feel they must face to advance in their career.
Multiple women I spoke to mentioned sexual harassment as a concern; some also mentioned ways women learn to resist: whisper networks. Allusions to whisper networks were characterized as last ditch efforts against an untransparent or perhaps deficient bureaucracy.
Manly incorporates conversations about harassment into her mentorship of her trainees. She tells them to advocate for themselves scientifically and personally. There are dynamics in any work place, she says. One of these dynamics is gender. She includes that “awareness of harassment—how it starts, what to do when it happens, is part of” her training.
P&S is a private institution—there is no salary transparency. I cannot tell you if gender is a factor in pay grade disparity. But many woman certainly feel it is.
The Commission’s Senate study revealed that: “43 percent of female P&S faculty are satisfied with their salary as compared with 54 percent of male P&S faculty.” I present this statement to almost every woman faculty member and undergraduate I speak with. Some were shocked at how low it was—most were not at all surprised.
Arguably, a lack of transparency in salary in P&S reinforces a perception of inequality—Taylor says P&S’s studies reveal there is no difference in salary between men and women, when factors like department and productivity are taken into account. Yet, the perceptions—and, perhaps, realities—of disparity persist.
When we talk, Heather Paladine, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Residency Director in the Center for Family and Community Medicine, describes a culture of speculation on disparity of salaries: “Everyone’s guessing, ‘Do the men make more, do the men make the same?’ So I think everyone’s assuming the men probably do make more, and that’s probably multifactorial.”
D’Armiento notes that the Association of American Medical Colleges publishes what average salaries in different regions should be. She explains that women will sometimes present to their chair the AAMC listed salary, and their own, and try to negotiate. “It doesn’t usually help.”
Evidently, the multiple factors that situate a woman’s position—social, political, economic—all intersect and reinforce one another.
“We do not have a culture of transparency,” Andrews admits. She also feels women tend to settle for lower salaries than men do. Ottman, who chaired the salary committee in the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center, observed the same thing: that women were more reluctant to request a salary increase than men. She notes that she does not see a disparity in salary in the center.
Paladine explains that medical schools measure benefits by the amount of salary rather than the proportion you make within your field. This specifically implicates fields with lower salaries—often, the fields with more women like pediatrics and family medicine.
For instance, her residency program—which she leads—is majority women, she says, pointing at a bulletin board above her desk with the photographs of her residents.
The last time I speak with Area Gomez, I notice that in the back corner of her lavender office, hidden behind the door, is a large black and white photograph of a woman.
I ask who it is. She tells me it’s Virginia Woolf, who once wrote an essay on the importance of a woman having a room of her own for creativity.
When Area Gomez moved into this office, her husband gave her the photograph—she now had a room of her own.
My last conversation with Area Gomez ends with a troubling reverberation of uncertainty. She recounts the different constraints she faces, staggering on the margins between being assertive and being told to “shut up,” needing to rely on her mentor and being told she is not independent, learning in programs how as a woman she must operate in a man’s world, but being a “bitch” if she acts too much like a man. Being told this is all because women prioritize family, when she doesn’t have any children of her own.
Either your older male leadership will treat you like a “girl,” she says, or once they can no longer be condescending, they flirt. “I cannot ask [older male PIs] to do anything because half of them, they’re staring at your boobs,” she admits. “And the other half, they look at you like a little girl.”
A good leader is only good so long as they are perceived as such. They are assertive, independent, self sufficient. Maybe they are white, maybe he is a cisgender man; maybe he wears a suit well, his hair is so meticulously gelled it does not flinch during impassioned contributions in meetings. Being a leader is not an objective standard, but rather a construction reified by systematic prejudices that perpetuate sexist and racist workplace environments. For Area Gomez, this means wondering how to break free of the hypocritical dichotomies that implicate her own career.
“What do I have to do?” Area Gomez asks, at last. “Dress like Joan of Arc?”
This is how to fix a leaking pipeline: In the Senate Plenary of April 27, on the first floor of Jerome Greene Hall, the Committee will present proposals for the next steps in addressing the findings of their study—finding a solution.