I’m delighted to share with all of you that I have been selected as the 2019 recipient of the Provost’s Prize for Faculty Excellence in Diversity. If you are local, the Awards Ceremony will be Wednesday, May 15 (tomorrow) from 3:30 – 5:00 PM in Charles Commons, Salon A. Come celebrate with me and the other winners of the Diversity Recognition Awards.
This award recognizes the grass-roots efforts that we can all do at all of our own institutions to nurture a more inclusive #STEM community. I’m grateful to everyone who worked with me, supported my enthusiasm in these efforts, and helped me to find my voice. In particular, I appreciate my Women of Hopkins cohorts (Dominic Scalise, Jeff Gray, Anna Coughlin, & Jeannine Heynes) as well as my Women Faculty Forum Co-Chair Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky. In thinking about how to share this great news, I decided to post the nominee statement I wrote, which captures my aspirations for the next generation of #WomenInSTEM.
To truly achieve the excellence we seek at Johns Hopkins, we need a more diverse faculty, and we must support this faculty by nurturing an inclusive academic community.
We the faculty are the first-line role models for students. Through who we are, through our lived experiences, and through whose work we choose to teach, we have an extraordinary power to influence our students’ goals and aspirations. We mold and coach the next generation of scientists, writers, artists, engineers, historians, musicians and healers. A diverse student body – like the one Johns Hopkins seeks to build through needs-blind admission – deserves no less than a diverse faculty.
I am a basic scientist who believes in data as a fundamental source for building evidence-based solutions to the world’s problems. Data on faculty demographics in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields from the National Science Foundation show that STEM is heavily male dominated and mostly white. The fraction of female full professors in STEM is increasing at the dismal rate of 0.73 percent per year. This has profound implications: it will take almost a century for women to be represented in the STEM professoriate at levels comparable to their representation in the population. The STEM numbers for women of color, members of under-represented groups and other dimensions of diversity have not been as systematically collected, and they are likely to be much worse.
The STEM “pipeline” is a metaphor used to describe the educational/professional pathway of the developing STEM workforce, and it is a well-documented problem that women “leak” from the STEM pipeline at all levels. For many years, the loss of female STEM talent has been blamed on overlap between the child bearing years and career-development milestones. However, a recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine debunks this rationalization and essentially states that women leave the STEM pipeline because it is a hostile, unwelcoming place. Over 58% of women faculty and staff have experienced some form of gender harassment, a rate second only to the military. As a consequence, white women, women of color, under-represented minorities, and people representing other dimensions of diversity do not feel a sense of belonging in STEM. So, they leave.
As the only woman in the history of my department to be hired as an assistant professor at Hopkins and promoted through the ranks to full professor with tenure, I want the pipeline experience to be better for my daughter, for your daughters, and for their daughters. I want our country to leverage all of the talent it holds. I want Johns Hopkins to lead in this area through inclusive excellence, and I want this change to happen in less than a century.
My work focuses on reshaping the pipeline. After all, when your faucet at home leaks, you don’t blame the water – leaking water is just a symptom. To solve the problem, you fix the pipe. I approach this challenge using the scientific method: first, by equipping myself and others with data and second, by working to implement evidence-based solutions.
I started small by running journal clubs on the social psychology literature for graduate and undergraduate students. I cover peer-reviewed papers that studied unconscious bias, in- group/out-group dynamics, the male-female confidence gap, emotion in the workplace, backlash, best practices for hiring, and bias in letters of recommendation. I hosted guest speakers who covered white privilege and the gender gap in communication styles. These “gender equity” journal clubs form the basis of grass-roots advocacy that empowers students with skills to lead informed discussions with their peers and lab groups on best practices. For our new professors, I teach a session on inclusive pedagogy as part of the Center for Educational Resources Best Practices in University Teaching.
While marching past portrait after portrait of the white male luminaries of Hopkins during the Freshman High Table dinner (now called First-Year Banquet), I wondered what the freshmen women were thinking about when they walked by and internalized the portraits within those ornate frames. In response, I worked with a team to create the Women of Hopkins art exhibit that displays images and accomplishments of women with a Hopkins connection from all disciplines. The digital exhibit has been accessed from around the world, and alumni from the first class of Hopkins female students found the Women of Hopkins as a validation of their experiences as pioneers of gender equity here.
I turned these efforts into an outspoken voice for change. I speak to all levels of faculty and students through formal seminar presentations in the areas of equity and inclusion. I give these in departmental seminar time slots here at Johns Hopkins and as second “diversity” seminars when invited to speak about my science at other institutions around the country. I regularly offer a session at the Diversity & Inclusion Conference operated by the DLC. I conduct evidence-based Socratic-style discussions on women in STEM at international scientific conferences, and I have led highly successful workshops at the last two international Biophysical Society meetings. This last meeting was in Baltimore, and I recruited undergraduate biophysics majors as actors in an edgy play act scene on the topic of unconscious bias to stimulate the discussion.
What difference can one person make? And could that be worthy of this prestigious Provost’s Prize for Diversity? One example of the impact of my work is summarized by a black female PhD student I met at Oberlin College after I conducted a workshop on Bystander Intervention there. While I was packing up, she came to the podium, thanked me and shared, “I’ve never heard an actual, real, live scientist talk about diversity and inclusion before. I am so grateful.”
This student’s comment gets to the heart of what the STEM pipeline actually is. We need to know its structure in order to fix it. And I argue that we the people – each one of us – form the so-called STEM pipeline. We are its core structural elements. Especially as faculty, we are the lives and souls of universities. What this means is that we have met the enemies to equity, and it is us. The institutional transformation we so urgently need is not the metamorphosis of a nameless, faceless entity that is someone else’s problem. Rather, our institutions are composed of people: presidents, provosts, deans, faculty, staff, and students. We the people must develop the resolve to solve this problem. No amount of policy from the top can mandate a more inclusive climate. Any change must come from within us. We all need to plug the leaks in the STEM pipeline through our actions and words each and every day. One-on-one. This is how we ensure a sense of belonging for everyone. All of us at all levels, collectively and individually, have a responsibility to create and nurture inclusion throughout the academic enterprise. This is how institutions build and leverage diversity.
We must do this work. Inclusive excellence depends on it. The next generation is counting on us.
How will you be an ally today?