Women in Academic Health and Medicine speak from a “brave space”

By Mariah Dula 

Jan. 28, 2020 — The OHSU Women in Academic Health and Medicine conference Jan. 28 moved from safe spaces to brave spaces by creating a supportive forum for the candid exchange of ideas to advance equity and positive structural change.  Now in its seventh year and convening more than 100 faculty members, trainees, students and staff from across the university, the conference was a celebration of accomplishments and a platform for action.

2020 Women in Academic Health and Medicine Award winners

Promoting equity through positive actions

In the keynote address Beverly Emerson, M.D., a distinguished scientist with the Knight Cancer Institute, OHSU School of Medicine, gave a blueprint for shifting organizational culture: transparency, independent oversight and elimination of “a have, have not” culture. Equity she stressed is not accomplished only through policy changes. “Consistent courage and integrity—is the one thing that changes organizational culture,” said Dr. Emerson. It was a charge not just for leadership, but for each one of us to take positive actions.

A participant inquired how to get a seat at the table when you are not a part of the ‘in’ group. Pulling from her own experience, Dr. Emerson urged women and others underrepresented in the sciences to claim their place—whether on a committee or gaining tenure—by regularly adding value. “People will gain respect if you consistently show up and participate.”  That strategy helped her garner professional recognition and attain leadership positions.

School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson, M.D., offered another approach: “You need a sponsor,” she interjected from the audience, “seek out someone who can help make that place at the table.”

A space for candor and collaboration

That spirit of candor and shared-strategizing around opening the doors to opportunities defined the WAHM conference.

“It is okay to hold each other accountable, because conflict can lead to transformation,” said Cirila Estela Vasquez Guzman, Ph.D., a postdoc in family medicine. “To move beyond safe spaces, we must push into discomfort to create brave spaces where we can challenge each other in a supportive way—WAHM is one of those places.”

Dr. Vasquez Guzman offered her insight in an afternoon table discussion called “A Black Fly in the Buttermilk of Leadership,” one of the many in which participants shared experiences, traded tips and discussed topics ranging from tactics for achieving tenure to more systemic issues like bias in hiring and admissions processes. Dr. Vasquez Guzman’s “brave spaces,” emerged as a conference theme: the need for organizational cultures that support—even reward—people who challenge biases and advocate for inclusive changes.

Andre Walcott, Ph.D. a postdoc in the Knight Cancer Institute, encourages WAHM participants to use social media to create a professional community.

Creating a supportive community

Connecting and advocating for each other was another key theme. Andre Walcott, Ph.D., a postdoc in the Knight Cancer Institute, led a table talk on social media for beginners. Dr. Walcott, @thereal_dr_dre on Twitter, encouraged the group to move from lurking to engaging in a professional virtual community. He explained that as the first African American Ph.D. in behavioral and neural sciences at OHSU he sometimes felt isolated, so he reached out to others in the field with similar experiences on social media to create a virtual community.

“Twitter helped me overcome impostor syndrome—now I use it to invite others,” he said.

By connecting with virtual contacts at professional events, Dr. Walcott has developed a network with peers and role models who build confidence in one another.

A roadmap for promoting equity emerged by the end of the conference:

  1. Reward bravery with affirmation— Encourage others who speak up to challenge inequality or push for positive change, by affirming their courageous actions. You can support bravery with a word or email of affirmation at the time or later.
  2. Be visible and trustworthy in person and online—Bolster your professional reputation and gain the trust of colleagues and patients by having an accessible digital presence that demonstrates your expertise and commitment to inclusion. For instance, share positive stories about other women scientists or list your unconscious bias training as a skill.
  3. Recognize and reject Microaggressions—Seemingly small actions that demean, exclude, ignore or dismiss someone conveys implicit bias and diminishes others. Reject micro-aggressions by identifying these actions, believing others when they experience them and speaking up.
  4. Receive criticism to learn—How one responds to criticism can either reinforce marginalization or build trust and understanding. If you receive criticism be present, accept and apologize. Another person’s perspective on your (even unconscious) biases is an opportunity to learn.
  5. Use social media to create community—Social media can help you connect with diverse peers and leaders to create a supportive virtual community. Promote equity by engaging in conversations that affirm competence and inclusion.
  6. Negotiate for better outcomes—Knowing when and how to negotiate is critical to advancing your academic career and gender parity in organizations. Recognizing that heightened emotions can create a disadvantage for women and employing strategies to avoid negotiating from an “emotional basement” can help women achieve more equitable outcomes.
  7. Support transparency—Being transparent in your work and calling for transparency in organizational decisions including recruitment and promotion, provides information to create a more equitable climate.
  8. Build inclusion as a mentor–Consider mentoring a person from a group that is underrepresented in science. Look for ways to support their journey, highlight the value they bring and build their confidence.
  9. Seek out sponsors—Professionals and trainees at any stage can benefit from sponsors or mentors, usually people who are further along in their careers or hold positions of power, who can provide access, advice and connections.
  10. Know the resources—OHSU has policies, support programs and resources available to employees and learners to create a culture of respect for all. Find more at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. ohsu.edu/center-for-diversity-inclusion

Clinical Mentoring Award winner Alison B. Edelman, M.D., M.P.H., with WAHM colleagues

Congratulations to the 2020 Women in Academic Health and Medicine Award recipients

Clinical Excellence Award: Karen Drake, M.A., CCC-SLP, assistant professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, OHSU School of Medicine

Discovery Award for Women in Science: Aleksandra Sikora, Ph.D. MSc, associate professor of Pharmacoproteomics, OSU College or Pharmacy and adjunct associate professor, OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute

Emerging Leader Award: Heather Angier Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Family Medicine, OHSU School of Medicine

Mentoring Award, Basic Science: Jessina C. McGregor, Ph.D., associate professor, OSU College of Pharmacy and associate professor of epidemiology, OHSU-PSU School of Public Health

Mentoring Award, Clinical: Alison B. Edelman, M.D., M.P.H., professor of obstetrics and gynecology, OHSU School of Medicine

Professional in Training Award: Kelsey Priest, Ph.D., M.P.H., sixth-year M.D./ Ph.D. student, OHSU School of Medicine

Awards were presented by President Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., Provost Elena Andresen, Ph.D. and School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson, M.D.