Assoc. for Women in Science

Winter 2015

AWIS Magazine covers topics important to women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine fields. Topics include career advancement, work-life balance, the state of science and technology, women’s wellness, and AWIS’ political and

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26 association for women in science | winter 2015 feature equity in Texas Ladies First: The Struggle for Equity in Texas and Beyond R enowned cancer researcher and female leader Professor Elizabeth Travis shares the details of her efforts to level the playing field for women scientists and physicians at her home institution and further afield. Can you discuss how you became associate vice presi- dent of Women Faculty Programs at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center? As a PhD student, I was a bench scientist with a general research focus on identifying the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying the complications of cancer treat- ment – primarily radiation-induced lung fibrosis, a potentially debilitating late complication of the treatment of cancers of the thorax. Throughout my career I have been a champion for advanc- ing women in science and medicine, long before it was de rigueur. When my institution initiated a search for an indi- vidual to lead a new initiative, the Office of Women Faculty Programs, I saw this as a unique, exciting and challenging opportunity to make a difference in the lives of women in academic medicine and science. Do you think that women in academic medicine and sci- ence face unique challenges in terms of pursuing gender equity? How big is the gender divide in these areas? I wish the answer to this question was no, but unfortunately there continue to be myriads of unique challenges that are pervasive and unrelenting – despite the fact that approxi- mately half of all medical school graduates and PhD gradu- ates in the life sciences are women. These challenges are not new; some are structural: the lack of paid maternity leave, for example. Even though millennial males are more engaged in child rearing than my contemporaries were, women continue to carry the majority of these responsibilities. There are challenges surrounding the unconscious biases that we all have regarding gender roles, but there are also challenges specific to women: lack of confidence and lack of sponsors, to name just a couple. It is not a chasm, but it is still a sizeable gap. What is the most important lesson you have learned con- cerning the promotion of gender equity? When Abigail Adams sent John (the second U.S. president) to the Continental Congress of 1774, she cautioned him: "Don't forget the ladies!" Similarly, we women must not and cannot forget the men. Gender equity is not a women's issue; it is a so- cietal issue. As long as women preach to the choir, change will be slow – even if the numbers of women in the field is large. Another lesson has been that change takes a maddeningly long time, and you cannot take your eye off the ball. It takes constant attention and focus to sustain the gains we have made and, even more importantly, to change institutional culture. Men are critical partners in achieving gender equity. Imagine looking back on your career in 30 years' time. What societal advances are you most hopeful to see as a result of your activities? First, representative numbers of women in leadership positions in all of medicine and science, as well as in society; for example, politics and law. I want to see women have the same opportu- nities as men and make up half of our leaders, including CEOs and corporate board members. Second, I want to see that we value families and that institutions universally support them with time and money, as well as paid maternity and paternity leave. Finally, that offices such as mine have been driven out of business and that these conversations are obsolete. Why do you see sponsorship as so important and dis- tinct from other solutions such as mentorship? I would like to see committed efforts to sponsor women for se-

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