Despite the fact that more women than men are enrolling in neuroscience programs, women still only represent 32 percent of neuroscience program faculty. This persistent, dramatic gap as shown in SfN’s Neuroscience Departments and Programs (NDP) survey continues to cause concern in the field.
“We’re still not doing a better job of getting women to the senior faculty levels,” said Alan Sved, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. Sved served on the SfN Neuroscience Training Committee working group that helped develop the 2016 survey and has been engaged with the survey for decades. “We’re training them. They’re in graduate programs. They’re postdocs. Then, the numbers start falling off when you start looking at faculty levels.”
Similarly, the survey showed a lack of growth in the number of minorities (individuals not identifying as Caucasian or white) in postdoc (10%) and faculty (10%) positions. As such, the need for women and minority candidates in faculty and administrative leadership roles remains crucial, and SfN is working to address the unconscious bias and other issues that women and minorities face in order to improve workforce diversity the field.
“The success of our field — and of the entire scientific community — requires the inclusion of diverse voices and perspectives at all levels,” SfN President Eric Nestler wrote in his recent Message From the President. “We know that groups of people from different backgrounds do a better job of tackling complex issues with creative and innovative solutions than non-diverse groups. Diversity in science leads to excellence in research.”
To further increase and support women pursuing careers in neuroscience, SfN has created a series of Increasing Women in Neuroscience (IWiN) toolkits. The four toolkits include a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation on a specific area of concern that women and minorities encounter in the field. These informative presentations include useful data, inspirational real life success stories, and steps institutions can take to welcome more diverse people into the field. All SfN members can download to the IWiN toolkits, which can be a great resource for academic and professional development.
The four toolkits focus on the following topics:
Research shows that all people exhibit implicit bias, in which we perceive and treat people differently based on their social groups or cultural stereotypes. This toolkit shows how implicit bias affects hiring and promotion in academic and professional settings and how to break the cycle. “Individuals need to be evaluated on the strength of their science and the contributions they can make to the institution, and not be made to feel that they are being considered only because the institution is trying to become diverse,” said Anne Etgen, a neuroscientist and professor at Albert College of Medicine who lead the creation of the toolkit.
Improving Faculty Climate
The climate within a workplace or learning environment should feel inclusive. This toolkit concentrates on improving the climate of an academic or professional setting so that women are better positioned to lead. Changes such as hiring an equal number of female and male leaders can invite more diversity, respect, and collaboration. James Geddes, vice dean for research at the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine, attended a two-day iWIN workshop led by Etgen in 2013 and was later asked to lead the creation of this toolkit. “Most of our waking hours are spent at work,” Geddes said. “It is therefore critical that the work environment be a supportive one, where faculty, postdocs, students, and staff respect each other and feel valued.”
Candidate Recruitment and Evaluation
The term “leaky pipeline” refers to the gender retention problem among women in senior academic roles. The “leak” tends to occur after graduate school, as many women don’t transition into the next career stage. This toolkit provides recommendations on how to increase diversity in the recruitment and evaluation process in academic and professional settings. Edith Brignoni-Pérez, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Georgetown University and president of SfN’s DC chapter, recently led her chapter’s first official workshop to draw attention to these issues and their solutions using SfN’s toolkit. “The workshop gave chapter leaders an opportunity to answer commonly asked questions and provide a forum for sharing ideas, expanding current initiatives, and melding professional networks in the DC area,” she said. “Based on our success using the IWiN toolkit to initiate important discussions, I highly recommend it to raise awareness about these issues in your community.”
Promotion and Tenure
Promoting qualified women and minorities can have a positive impact on a university’s faculty and student body. This toolkit describes the promotion process from start to finish, common obstacles that women face in this process, and the effect of the working environment on tenure and promotion practices. “Women in academia are promoted less than their male counterparts,” said Tanea Reed, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky and SfN volunteer who led the creation of this toolkit. “The obstacles facing women in science who are applying for promotion and tenure can be daunting, therefore implementing effective strategies for improvement is key.”