We can all walk the walk

Several people asked for a transcript of the remarks I gave yesterday at the awards ceremony for the Provost’s Prize.

This award recognizes the grassroots work that we can all do to nurture a more inclusive community. And I want to empower each and every one of you by quickly mentioning three aspects that I think are important.
The first is the distinction between culture and climate.

An institution’s culture is defined by how we aspire to do things. You find institutional cultural values in the form of a mission statement. These are often found online. At Diversity.jhu.edu, it starts, “Diversity of people, thought, experience, and background is fundamental to the mission of this university.” This statement comes down as policy from the top. This a pre-requisite to inclusive excellence, and I like to think of this as “talking the talk”.
In contrast, the climate we all experience is the expression of culture. We can think of this as the shared perceptions of our community. How do we all feel when we come to work each day? In the STEM fields – and probably all other male-dominated fields (law and politics come to mind) – data show that the climate is hostile to white women, to women of color, to under-represented minorities, to LGBTQ+ members of the community, to differently abled and to other so-called out-group people. So these people opt-out. I think of climate as “walking the walk”.
The key to authentic, inclusive excellence is finding the synergistic overlap between culture and climate.

My second point is how do we do this? 
Well, we need to think big. We need diversity in our highest levels of leadership. We need courageous leaders to foster change away from the status quo of Hopkins past into a new Hopkins future that leads inclusive excellence. We need our prestigious endowed professorships to be roles models held by faculty with demographics proportional to their representation in the population. We need programs that incentivize change. Because nothing will change if we continue to do the “same old thing”. Instead, we are going to get the “same old outcome”.
We also need to think small, because institutions are fundamentally people. The institutional transformation we so urgently need is not the metamorphosis of a nameless, faceless entity that is someone else’s problem. Any change must come from within us – each and every one of us. And so what we can all do, one-on-one, every day, is to check our biases. We need to value our colleagues as individuals and not as members of a group. We need to listen to each other. We must be inclusive of each other. We must respect that each of us brings a different lived experience to the table. We must be better bystanders for each other. These small, daily transactions are how institutions leverage diversity.
And as faculty we must especially value diversity, equity and inclusion in our classrooms through our actions and words and through what we choose to teach because our students are the academic community of the future. We must teach them to be good to each other and to lift each other up. We must instill within them that they alone hold the amazing power to nurture the kind of inclusive community that they want to have going forward. 
My third point is about the money.

Thinking big will cost money, and I hope Fenimore Fisher (our Chief Diversity Officer in the Provost’s office) has deep pockets. Or at least I hope his friends in high places have deep pockets.

But I also want to point out that thinking small can be free. We can all individually do the work of nurturing a sense of belonging. Every day. Stated another way: we can all walk the walk in our own way.

So my final challenge is for you to all to look in the mirror and ask yourselves every morning: How will I be an ally today?


Provost’s Prize

Update: Here is a link to the remarks I presented at the awards ceremony.

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?

Women of Hopkins Survey

We are conducting a survey on the Women of Hopkins art exhibit to assess its impact. Please fill out the survey if you have visited either the physical exhibit or it’s corresponding website. 


Women of Hopkins is here and was created using a Diversity Leadership Council Award. Click the WomenOfHopkins Category to read more about its history.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has an opportunity to lead. Will they take it?

I ran a workshop at Oberlin College last fall on the topic of Bystander Intervention. Afterwards a black woman graduate student thanked me and went on to express how stunned and pleased she was that an actualreal scientist was speaking out about the institutional inequities experienced by women and minorities in the STEM community.

She’s right. The fact is that the vast majority of actual, real scientists do not speak out, even when something really bad happens to them personally.

The pool of targets who could potentially speak out is not small. The National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine reported that over 58% of women in STEM have personally experienced something bad. And when this happens to you, or a female colleague, or your sister, or your wife, or your daughter, or your trainee, it is incumbent upon you to recognize that these women have been put between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

There is currently no good way out.

Women who don’t file formal reports, which is most of them,  pay high costs as documented by links between experiences of harassment and declines in personal and professional well-being. These women have less job satisfaction; and they detach, disengage, and eventually leave. Hence the leaking STEM pipeline.

Still, most targets do not report harassment because of even higher perceived and real risks to their careers. Even though my younger self was totally confused about the rules of the game, I implicitly understood as an assistant professor that making any kind of formal complaint would be a career killer.

This is not hypothetical drama. I am not being sensitive. We are, in fact, now witness to this actually transpiring in a public forum.

Last week, Science magazine published an article about BethAnn McLaughlin – aka @McLNeuro –  and the very real possibility that she will lose her tenure-track job at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). From Meredith Wadman’s Science article:

“In the past 9 months, McLaughlin has exploded into view as the public face of the #MeToo movement in science, wielding her irreverent, sometimes wickedly funny Twitter presence, @McLNeuro, as part cudgel, part cheerleader’s megaphone. In June 2018, she created a website, MeTooSTEM.com, where scores of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have posted mostly anonymous, often harrowing tales of their own harassment. In just 2 days that month, she convinced the widely used website RateMyProfessors.com to remove its “red hot chili pepper” rating for “hotness.” And after launching an online petition, she succeeded last fall in spurring AAAS, which publishes Science, to adopt a policy allowing proven sexual harassers to be stripped of AAAS honors.“

The 2018 NASEM report makes it clear that women are bullied or harassed out of career pathways in STEM. And it appears from the Science article, that some serious institutional bullying has been going on at VUMC. After voting to tenure her, they reversed the decision in a second meeting called by the dean and put her tenure on hold for 17 months after hearing reports that she posted anonymous, derogatory tweets about colleagues.

Being under consideration for tenure is one of the most stressful times of an academic career. What did the leadership at VUMC expect she was going to do in response to freezing her tenure? What were they secretly hoping she would do? Was this a tactic to just wait out her contract after they set her up for failure?

In full disclosure, I do not know @McLNeuro personally. I have never even met her. I only know what is in last week’s Science article and what she posts on Twitter.  For this, I greatly admire her unwavering courage in speaking out, and I fully support her initiatives to remove harassers from science. As with any complicated situation, I appreciate that there may be more to the story than is published in the Science article. Is @McLNeuro perfect? None of us are.

Yet, plenty of men are grabbing and touching and mansplaining and retaliating against and interrupting and marginalizing and diminishing women on a regular basis with no negative consequences whatsoever. Why? Because women are afraid of the consequences of speaking out.

With this in mind, should @McLNeuro be essentially fired because she tweeted a few things?

Similarly, do I think that the environment at Vanderbilt is especially hostile? Probably not. Sadly, it’s probably the norm. Based on data in the NASEM report, academia in general is hostile to women. I suspect what is playing out at Vanderbilt could conceivably play out at many of our own institutions.

But Vanderbilt University Medical Center is in hot seat right now, so to speak, and timing is everything. And guess what? #TimesUp. In a little over two days, almost three thousand people have signed a petition protesting the retaliation against @McLNeuro by VUMC. (Update: the petition below has reached over 5,000 signatures in 5 days!) You can sign it here: https://www.change.org/p/nicholas-s-zeppos-vanderbilt-do-right-by-bethann-mclaughlin

At this scientific crossroads, one way to look at this messy predicament is to realize that VUMC has been given a unique opportunity to lead. Instead of firing Professor BethAnn McLaughlin, Vanderbilt University Medical Center could, as the NASEM report suggests institutions should, “convey through their actions that reporting harassment is an honorable and courageous action”. VUMC could acknowledge that the institution essentially killed her career by placing her tenure decision on hold for nearly two years. VUMC could leverage @McLNeuro’s energy, passion and platform for the greater good. VUMC could lead in developing novel and creative mechanisms to nurture inclusive excellence in STEM environments.

Opportunities to make a real difference do not come along every day.

Will Vanderbilt University Medical Center make the right decision? Which side of history will they be on?

Women are watching.




#STEM Inclusion at #bps19

The Biophysical Society meeting is less than a month away, and I am excited to share that I will be running a session at the meeting entitled Nurturing a More Inclusive STEM Enterprise by Understanding our Biases (abstract below).

This workshop will take place on Tuesday, March 5 from 1:15 to 2:45 at the Baltimore Convention Center. You must be registered for the meeting to attend this session. We will include a play-act scene of a classroom and are hoping to get an awesome discussion on how we can all be better, more inclusive scientists. #WeCanAllBeAllies

Here’s the Abstract:

We are all biased. Google’s PeopleAnalytics suggests that we as people can only consciously process about one millionth of the information that we receive at any moment. Instead, we rely heavily on our unconscious reasoning abilities to make decisions. Even though we scientists are trained to be objective and evidence based, we, too, use cognitive shortcuts in our every day interactions. This means we rely on our expectation biases, e.g. what we think we think about categories of people, things, situations. This behavior leads to unconscious errors in decision making that leads to discrimination in science against people who do not meet the stereotypical description of what a scientist looks like. This session will approach the phenomenon of unconscious bias as a science problem by examining the data in this area and by discussing tools that we can all use to nurture a more inclusive scientific enterprise. Attendees are encouraged to learn about their own biases by completing the Project Implicit Gender-Science IAT, Race IAT and Sexuality IAT tests at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.



handsoffix-benefits&opportunitiesTitle IX is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal funding. Title IX was instituted almost 50 years ago to protect equal access to education.

As most of you know the way that Universities handle sexual misconduct has improved in the last decade.  Universities can use trauma-informed practices and put into effect policies that are better for all parties.  In November of 2017 Secretary of Education Betsy Devos withdrew the Title IX guidelines issued during the Obama administration that allowed for much of this reform.

This has the potential to take our universities back a number of steps.   Individuals and collectives have until Tuesday, January 29 to comment on her proposed regressive changes.  Advocates encourage as many people as possible to comment on these regulations.  Many organizations have posted instructions on how to do this.   The direct link to submit your comment is here:


Please take ten minutes to do this! For those of us with no extra time (ummm, that would be all of us), the following sites distill down the issues in succinct text and provide a pre-formatted comment form.

There is a a website here that suggests comments.  It has templates for letters and some data. The hastag is #HandsOffIX

The AAUW has an explanation and petition here. http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/50796/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=25579

The UVa Women’s Center page on the subject is here. http://womenscenter.virginia.edu/2019/01/who-me-commenting-proposed-title-ix-regulations

The STEM Pipeline has gushing leaks as a consequence (mostly) of discrimination by a plethora of putdowns

Death by a thousand little cuts is a modern metaphor for a slow process in which a multitude of small – seemingly inconsequential (but bad) – things happen that ultimately culminate in the destruction of whomever was suffering the events. Like all sayings, there is truth behind it: historically, the phrase refers to a form of Chinese torture in which death – literally – was the outcome for a victim who was slowly tortured by being subjected to the process having their skin sliced. Pretty gruesome, huh?

An analogous figure of speech can be constructed for the collective effects of gender harassment in the STEM community: discrimination by a thousand little acts of bias (in the form of putdowns, either conscious or unconscious), which has culminated in a loss of STEM talent. As I point out in all my talks on equity in STEM, so much of the discussion has been concerned with blaming women for dropping out of the STEM pipeline (they choose to leave; it coincides with childbearing years; they don’t want to “work hard”; women don’t “lean in”, etc.). Yet, aside from an increasing discussion on family friendly policies at the institutional level, comparatively few studies have been focused on the pipeline itself.

This is quite perplexing to me because, when my kitchen sink leaks, I don’t actually blame the water.  Of course I am upset that water is dripping out, especially if it gets on the floor and makes a big mess, but even if that happens I immediately understand even without thinking about it that the dripping water is a pipeline issue at its core, not a water issue. It is the pipeline that has failed: it corroded; the gasket got old and dry; roots grew in it; etc. Whatever the cause, the water leaks. To remedy this situation, I call a plumber, who examines the pipes, identifies the weak point(s) and then remedies the situation by fixing the pipe.

This evidence-based process is what we continue to need in STEM: Let’s stop blaming the women who leave and instead conduct a serious examination of the pipeline so that we can identify the underlying causes for failure. Only then will we be able to fix it.

There is new hope. Continuing with my broken kitchen faucet metaphor, the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine have recently played the role of a diagnostic plumber through a report they published this past June on Sexual Harassment in Academia. Their essential diagnosis is that the STEM pipeline is a hostile place for women. And although this NAS report has a dominant focus on the experiences of white women, their bottom line assessment of the STEM enterprise as a horror house for women (my words, not theirs) is most likely also true (and probably worse) for women of color, under-represented minorities and gender and sexual minorities.

Let’s pause and consider some facts from the NAS document:

  • Six out of ten women have experienced harassment in STEM, second only to the military.
  • Most harassment is gender harassment and does not rise to the legal definitions that necessarily fall under the purview of Title IX. In their iceberg image, gender harassment is “below the legal water line”.
  • Mostly, harassment is “put-downs” of women.
  • Institutional culture is the major determinant of the prevalence of harassment.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 4.05.14 PMThese facts (and more) in the NAS report define why the STEM pipeline leaks of women are not a trickling drip, drip, drip, but rather a gushing exodus.

Women leave because of a deep-seated institutional culture that tolerates tiny little acts of discrimination mediated by a plethora of putdowns that happen day-in and day-out. Altogether these send the message that women’s contributions, opinions or competencies are not valued as much as men’s are. And as a woman or any other member of the “out group”, it takes great fortitude and dedication to stay in a job/career/environment that incessantly makes a statement that you do not belong.

Plugging the leaky pipeline is a big, multi-scale problem, and to their credit, the NAS has come up with 15 broad recommendations that cover everything from new laws and policies to a re-envisioning of graduate training to a raised awareness of personal interactions. As an active member of the STEM field, I particularly gravitate towards recommendation #15, which indirectly points out, as the cliché goes, “we have met the enemy, and s/he is us”. This realization is at the same time intimidating and empowering because it means that we, alone, possess the ability to build a better pipeline. Because, as I wrote over at the Biophysical Society blog

We – the current practitioners – are the so-called STEM pipeline. We are the core structural elements of academia. We are the lives and souls of universities and research centers. 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. Any change must come from within us. We all need to plug the leaks in our STEM pipeline through our actions and words each and every day. All of us at all levels, collectively and individually, have a responsibility to create and nurture inclusion throughout the scientific enterprise.

Let’s stop the leaks in the pipeline. Inclusive excellence depends on it. The next generation is counting on us.

#WeMustBeBetter #WeMustDoBetter #LetsDoThisWork #WeCanAllBeAllies


Reactions from the student newspaper on our WWS event covering the NASEM report on sexual harassment in academia

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 8.20.49 AMAnne-Elizabeth and I were pleased that the Johns Hopkins News-Letter covered our Where We Stand event last week. This is the student newspaper, and it is always interesting to hear how the students react. You can read about it here:



Happening Today: Where We Stand

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.42.23 PMLater today I will co-lead the second of a series of discussions on the findings and recommendations of the NAS report on sexual and gender harassment in the STEMM fields. I hope you will come tonight to learn more about this important study and to help craft solutions to this pipeline leak. In the meantime, I leave you with one of the most important pieces of data in the report: 58% of women faculty and staff have experienced one kind or another of sexual harassment! Fifty-eight percent!

It’s no wonder women leave.

Where We Stand is tonight, Oct 25 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in the Mudd UTL Atrium

#WeMustDoBetter #WeMustBeBetter

#BystanderIntervention at Oberlin

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.21.31 PMIn early October, I was hosted by the Department of Chemistry at Oberlin College for a #science seminar on the chaperones that I study (which play hot potato with outer membrane proteins in the bacterial periplasm).  As part of the visit, I did a second session later that evening on #BystanderIntervention. This workshop is an interactive, socratic type discussion that takes apart a scene that is (by design) a little over the top with implicit bias, microaggression, and gender stereotypes. It’s really fun to do, and the thing I like the most about it is the diversity of opinions from the audience. While there are common themes that arise, everyone views a scene from their own place. This makes this session a learning experience for the entire group, me included! And afterwards, I was stunned when a URM woman came up to me and said she came to the session because she wanted to see with her own eyes “a real actual scientist committed to diversity and inclusion”. What an honor to fill that role!

I was also interviewed by the school newspaper.

#WeCanBeBetter #WeMustDoBetter

What are your favorite tips for being a better #bystander?