Advancing Women in Academic Neuroscience
History of IWiN
Between 2010 and 2013, SfN worked on a NSF-funded grant program called the Department Chair Training to Increase Women in Neuroscience, or IWiN. The ultimate goal of the three-year project was to increase the number of female neuroscience faculty, particularly at senior levels. It was led by co-Principal Investigators Jill Becker (University of Michigan) and Anne Etgen (Albert Einstein College of Medicine). The program was made possible through generous funding from NSF, as part of its ADVANCE Program for Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers.
Engaging Neuroscience Departments Nationwide
The IWiN project served as a catalyst for critical dialogue among university leaders around issues of effective recruitment, promotion, and creation of a favorable work climate for female faculty. A total of 141 neuroscience-related department chairs and university leaders from 43 academic institutions in 27 states and the District of Columbia participated in one of five regional workshops. Reflecting neuroscience’s multidisciplinary nature, a broad range of departments were represented including biology, psychology, engineering, and computer science. SfN partnered with the University of Michigan, University of Arizona, University of California Irvine, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine to host four of the workshops.
Workshops Raise Awareness & Offer Strategies
Workshop presentations included research revealing “implicit bias” as an underlying reason for the gender gap, along with proven strategies and practical tools to help recruit and retain a diverse faculty. Discussions around implicit bias led to many “ah-ha” moments when participants recognized how often unconscious as well as more overt biases favoring men over women enter into the equation at all levels from recruitment to hiring to promotion. “It was life-changing, and I’ll never look at a search committee the same way again,” an associate dean in the Ohio State Graduate School reported. “The lessons in particular for implicit bias really resonated with me and with educating search committees to recognize their own implicit bias in doing their job.”
Participants brainstormed in small groups and had animated conversations exploring questions of what can be done to level the playing field for female faculty. Ideas for what department chairs could do to create a more favorable climate for women and minorities, for example, included reviewing teaching and service workload assignments for equity, placing women and minorities on important committees, and offering academic performance and career development workshops.
The role of implicit bias in tenure-promotion discussions hit home vividly through a popular feature of the workshops — a role play conducted by a University of Michigan performance troupe. As participants watched and listened to the mock tenure meeting, having been attuned to issues of implicit bias, they were surprised at how much they recognized the subtle and not-so-subtle behaviors and signals of gender discrimination apparent in the scene.
By the end of the workshop, each university team developed an action plan for implementing some element of what they had learned back at their home institution. The team approach was designed to create a critical mass of change agents needed to increase chances for success.
Lessons Learned and Moving Into Action
In order to gauge progress, share challenges faced and lessons learned, and discuss next steps, SfN brought together representatives from all five workshops in September 2012. An impressive number of institutions reported on achievements to date, from implementing search committee training to evaluating promotion and tenure policies to developing pilot faculty mentoring programs. Leaders at Emory University, for example, had conducted workshops for search committee members and encouraged the use of clear evaluative tools and ranking systems. The University of Minnesota modified the annual review and promotion processes for assistant professors, including moving from a static committee of four to a committee of all tenured faculty members and preparing a draft report following the meeting rather than before. In addition, 11 institutions reported having conducted “echo” workshops — essentially the IWiN workshop itself — to generate greater awareness and support for change on their campuses. Others were just beginning to implement changes and benefited from the brainstorming of ideas and strategies for overcoming obstacles.
Next Steps: Resources for, and Dialogue With, the Field
Building on the lessons learned meeting, SfN focused efforts in the final months of the grant on disseminating best practices and project resources and results. A webinar on implicit bias was held on June 6, 2013, and during Neuroscience 2013, IWiN project leaders offered a workshop on best practices and strategies for recruiting and retaining diverse faculty. At the same time, SfN created three web-based interactive courses on the topics of recruiting a diverse faculty, improving promotion and tenure practices, and improving faculty climate to support the ongoing work of IWiN participants and create greater ripples within the broader university community.
Following the conclusion of the grant, SfN worked to adapt the presentation materials from the workshop series into a series of turn key presentations resources called the IWiN Toolkit. The Toolkit includes four 30-minute PowerPoint presentations that focus on specific gender retention issues, lists and discussion scenarios. SfN members are encouraged to download the IWiN Toolkit and organize workshops on these important topics withing their own communities.