I do think that often, very high leadership is perhaps hypercritical, or let’s say hypersensitive about being criticized for their roles in promoting progress in women’s areas. Even a year ago, I wrote an article in the Journal of Experimental Medicine on this topic and felt that talking with leadership would be a useful end to coming up with solutions.
“Now, I have come to believe that … real change happens on two levels. One of them is … the people you’re around every day.”
Looking back on my early years, I realize I wasn’t necessarily looking at what the institution was doing as much as what my very close and neighboring colleagues, other women around me, were doing and how we created a community for each other. That was very, very positive. I still think that’s really important. Institutions should, and I believe can, create infrastructure that supports women, all the way from wellbeing to actual infrastructure around childcare, breastfeeding, and promoting community among women. I would love to see that happen, but I think that it goes so far beyond institutions.
I also play roles in grants groups. I am sad to see the low fraction of women, particularly perhaps after COVID, who are on these panels and whose grants are coming forward. I think that the issues to be addressed are critical changes that need to happen at the institutional level. Exactly how to promote those in the most positive manner without actually moving backwards, which is my fear, is unclear to me.
At the same time, it also goes beyond the institution. Maybe it really does have a lot to do with unconscious bias. I have a lot of colleagues who I feel like have a real intent to support women, but still might be the people who, when they make openly critical comments about others in groups, it might in fact be more often than not women, and it’s very troubling to me. Then how to correct it is still mysterious to me.
“I think it’s widely thought that increasing women’s visibility in leadership roles is one answer, and maybe that is true. It’s something that I personally have struggled with.”
I am attracted to the complexity of this problem and very much would like to see it move forward in a positive way, but at the end of the day, I also believe that what I really want to do is science. Maybe that’s where women’s success will ultimately play out, in the laboratory. Sometimes these other roles that we are talking about actually distract from that success in the laboratory. I worry that leadership roles are often also highly constrained in the context of their institution to actually make change.
“For me, that has led to the thinking that maybe the best use of my time is to do science and to train scientists, which is really fun and ultimately, albeit perhaps slowly, makes change in the community.”