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Necessary Steps

Vision 2020, a report on the status of women at Johns Hopkins, suggested that the university needs to change its culture. How are we doing?

By Maria Blackburn
Illustration by Jon Krause

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A Timeline of
Women at Hopkins
Walk down any hallway in any building in any division of Johns Hopkins University, and you'll see women. Some 9,000 women work at the university as teachers and techs, housekeepers and historians, accountants and anesthesiologists — outnumbering men two to one. Women also make up more than half of the undergraduate and graduate student bodies.

What you won't see, according to Vision 2020, a report released one year ago this month by the University Committee on the Status of Women at Johns Hopkins, is many of those women serving as leaders — as deans, vice presidents, or full professors. You may not see many of them settling in for a long and satisfying career at Hopkins, or acting as mentors to all those female students. True, the university recently selected a female provost and named its first female chair of the board of trustees, appointments that put the university a few steps closer to gender equity. But if Vision 2020 is correct, for many women at Hopkins, career success and satisfaction remain elusive.

University President William R. Brody says that situation cannot continue. "The math is very simple," he says. "The number of women college graduates is exceeding the number of males. We are a business that relies on intellectual capital. We need brains and talent. Now that over half of the workforce is composed of women, we have got to figure out how to access and retain them."

Which, Vision 2020 states bluntly, has not been occurring at Johns Hopkins. The report — which uses terms like "pernicious," "hostile," and "detrimental" to describe the gender culture at Hopkins — found that the university ranked last among its peer group in the Consortium on Financing Higher Education for its percentage of female executives. What's more, women faculty, students, and staff interviewed for the report spoke of feeling disrespected, excluded, exploited, undervalued, and not supported by their supervisors, coworkers, and professors. "While overall there has been progress since 1985," when the Homewood campus deans commissioned the Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women, the report reads, "incidents still occur regularly that are not in keeping with standards the university purports to uphold."

Since that 1985 report, there have been 34 divisional and university-wide reports on the status of women at Johns Hopkins, nearly all of which included recommendations to recruit, promote, and retain more women as faculty, leadership, and senior staff; achieve pay equity between male and female workers; and change the male-dominated culture at Hopkins to be more inclusive. Despite those efforts, problems remain.

Women made up 51 percent of the student body but accounted for only 36 percent of full-time faculty. There were five times more male full professors than female. Can it be different this time? Vision 2020 — as well as leaders at the highest levels of Hopkins' administration — says it has to be. "The university," the report states, must "recognize the realities of contemporary life" and "adapt to the changing dynamics of the nation's economy to overcome obstacles that prevent the full engagement of women."

When the University Committee on the Status of Women was appointed in 2002, President Brody and then provost Steven Knapp charged its 38 members with discovering what obstacles to gender equity existed and what could be done to remove them. Unlike the Provost's Committee on the Status of Women, which met from 1988 to 2002, this committee was not chaired by the provost and could operate more independently, serving as an advisory body to the president and provost. "[We wanted] to build on the success of the Provost's Committee by launching an in-depth study of ways of really transforming the institution," says Knapp, who on August 1 became president of George Washington University.

Over four years, the committee consulted experts in gender research; analyzed previous reports on the status of women at Hopkins and at other universities, including Harvard and Yale; collected data from Hopkins' Office of Institutional Research; and conducted interviews, surveys, and focus groups with more than 1,000 female students, staff, and faculty. What it found was discouraging. According to Vision 2020, of the women who worked full time at Hopkins, only 14 percent were faculty, 31 percent were professionals, 18 percent had technical positions, and 34 percent were clerical workers; of the men, 36 percent were faculty, 38 percent were professionals, 12 percent were technical, and 8 percent were clerical. Women made up 51 percent of the student body but accounted for only 36 percent of the full-time faculty. There were five times more male full professors than female. Thirty-two percent of male faculty had tenure, while only 13 percent of female faculty did.

The women who participated in focus groups told the committee that women are less often identified for leadership roles than are men. In some departments, younger women feel isolated and are not encouraged to go up for early promotions. "At JHU there is one model for a leader, and all leaders have very similar leadership behavior," one woman said. They are, typically, men and women who are willing and able to devote extraordinary time and labor to their jobs, to the exclusion of other family responsibilities and personal pursuits. "There is very little tolerance of deviation from the canonical definition of a leader. A female leader with a very different style is generally not tolerated and creates a sense of discomfort."

Junior faculty and graduate students told the committee that Hopkins is not supportive of women who are in their reproductive years, manifested not only in a lack of affordable on-campus day care and a routine parental leave policy, but in a tenure system incompatible with starting a family. One woman in a focus group said, "The tenure process is an enormous issue for candidates because there's a clock ticking, and if you don't get tenure by a particular time, it gives the perception that you are not committed or excellent at your job. This is an enormous impediment to women . . . [who] tend to delay child bearing until [they've] gone through the process." Female staff complained of not being respected by managers, and female students lamented the lack of female role models. One student told the committee, "I have definitely felt the 'weirdness' of being the only girl, with NO women role models in my field." Another said, "The faculty in my department is almost entirely male, while the students are almost entirely female. Being presented with a mostly male faculty makes me doubt my prospects as a female scholar in my field."

As the committee reviewed previous reports on the status of women at Hopkins, it concluded that, though there had been genuine attempts to address gender disparities, they had not endured. "As soon as the interventions stop, the problems re-emerge," says Linda Fried, director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at the School of Medicine, who led the committee. "If you treat a symptom and the person runs out of medicine and stops taking their medicine, the symptom comes back. We've seen the same thing looking at the interventions that have been done at Hopkins. The minute the salaries stop being intentionally corrected, the disparities resume." This time, the group aimed to get not just at the problems but at the causes. "I'm a physician, so I know that if there are symptoms, then there is an underlying disease," says Fried. "We came to the conclusion that we needed to figure out what the disease is."

The disease, according to Vision 2020, is an institutional as well as a societal culture that undervalues, underrecognizes, and underrewards women for their contributions. The committee divided the major issues of gender inequity into three themes — leadership, work/life balance, and culture — and explored not just the problems but potential solutions.

So, how do you cure this disease? And a year after the report's release, what's the prognosis?


According to the report, in 2005 Hopkins ranked last in its peer group for the percentage of women executives — that is, the president and vice presidents, the deans, and the directors who lead the university, its administrative departments, and its divisions. Only 41 percent of senior leaders at Hopkins were female, compared with 75 percent at the University of Rochester, 61 percent at Yale, and 52 percent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The paucity of women in senior leadership positions affects many aspects of diversity, including recruitment and promotions of female faculty, appointments of faculty to leadership positions, family-friendly policies, and progressive goals for diversifying the faculty," Vision 2020 states.

"Women at Hopkins aren't rising to the levels of leadership to which they deserve to rise," agrees Ray Gillian, the university's vice provost for institutional equity. Look at the junior faculty and you'll see that Hopkins does a good job of hiring women. But the university has not been equally successful in promoting and retaining them. "If you look at the assistant professor level, it's close to a 50/50 split of men and women," Gillian says. "At the associate professor level, it's 30 to 40 percent women. But at the full professor level, it's 80 percent male."

Back in the 1980s, when committees at Hopkins first started asking why there weren't more women leaders, especially female full professors, there was a pipeline issue, says Barbara Landau, chair of the Department of Cognitive Science in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and a member of the University Committee on the Status of Women. There just weren't enough women getting PhDs to be part of the hiring pool. That's changed. Today women earn 49 percent of doctoral degrees at Hopkins, compared to 41 percent 20 years ago.

"The pipeline isn't the primary problem [now]," says Landau, who chaired a 2003 Krieger School report on women. "It's the leaky pipeline that's a problem. Women drop out, they don't get recruited, they don't get the top awards, and they don't get promoted — so they leave for other institutions. If there's progress, it's shockingly slow. It doesn't have to be so slow."

Vision 2020 laid out two goals for fixing these disparities: By the year 2015, 50 percent of the university's senior leadership should be female, and by 2020, 50 percent of senior faculty positions should be held by women.

There has been progress toward the first goal. In 2006, women occupied 44 percent, or 43 of the 98 executive positions at Hopkins. Currently, there are three female vice presidents at the university: Charlene Moore Hayes, vice president for human resources; Kristina M. Johnson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs (as of September 1); and Linda L. Robertson, vice president for government, community, and public affairs. There are also two female deans heading academic divisions — Jessica P. Einhorn of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and Martha Hill of the School of Nursing — and an interim dean, Pamela Cranston, at the Carey Business School. In July, Pamela P. Flaherty, SAIS '68, became the first female chair of the university's board of trustees.

The problem with the second goal is that it's mathematically impossible to achieve. There simply will not be enough faculty retiring by 2020 to create the required opportunities to hire women. "We just won't have sufficient turnover to make that many hires over the next 15 years," Gillian says. University leaders are now calling the 50/50 target an "aspirational goal."

Says Hayes, "I have challenged people to look at the goal like this: Even if you know you can't realistically get there, you are constantly striving to get closer."

Between 1993 and 2003, the number of female full professors doubled from 60 to 121, increasing from 13 percent to 18 percent of all full professors. And there's a fairly simple strategy, says Brody, to continuing to increase those numbers: "We want to push the deans and directors that, on average, every other hire for faculty and senior positions should be a woman," he says. "For years this was stated, but there was never any tracking of it, and there was never any push from the top down to do this. Now we are holding the deans accountable for doing this all the way down through the units."

Hopkins is a huge, diverse university, and the number of women who are full professors varies widely by division. In 2005, the Whiting School of Engineering had 9 percent female full professors; the School of Medicine and the Krieger School had 16 and 19 percent, respectively; and the Bloomberg School of Public Health had 30 percent. The School of Nursing has the opposite problem: Of its 69 full-time faculty members, 67 are female.

Complicating the statistics, says Krieger School Dean Adam Falk, is the heterogeneity of departments within divisions. For instance, the Mathematics Department has only two female tenured professors; in the English Department, half of all full professors are female.

Some divisions, despite progress, still grapple with a pipeline issue. The Whiting School, for instance, has seen the percentage of women faculty go from single digits to close to 20 percent in the last three years, putting it more in line with its peer institutions in terms of gender equity. But the pool of candidates continues to be predominantly male, says Dean Nick Jones. "For us to embrace a goal of 50 percent in engineering is just unrealistic in the short term," he says.

But Jones will continue to encourage faculty search committees to seek qualified women and minority applicants. "When I came here I made it clear to my department chairs that we needed to be embracing diversity or else we were not exposing students to a sufficient breadth of thought," he says. "I thought we could be doing better. Now that we've gone from fewer than 10 percent of women on the faculty to closer to 20 percent, we are committed to continuing to recruit at a rate that makes us a leader with respect to our peers."

For every faculty search at the Bloomberg School, Dean Michael Klag tells department chairs that he expects women to be on the short list of those who are invited to interview. But, he adds, "excellence is a core value here at Hopkins. The idea of recruiting someone because of their gender or race doesn't work here. It's a given that they have to be outstanding."

Work/life balance:

Two years ago, Brody taught an eight-week leadership class to 20 women from across the university. He says he became aware of the difference between how men and women view leadership at Hopkins when he asked the women about their career aspirations. "They talked about productivity in their work and job satisfaction, but they weren't elbowing each other out of the way to become a university president or a dean," he says. "There seems to be a different focus, a different approach. We need to take those differences into consideration in creating programs that foster women leaders."

Hopkins prides itself on being a place where people work hard, where many employees work every day and well into most nights. Vision 2020 describes them (borrowing from Joan Williams' book Unbending Gender: Why Work and Family Conflict) as the university's "ideal workers" — people who are willing and able to devote 24 hours a day, seven days a week to their jobs.

Such "ideal workers" have created a culture of excellence at Johns Hopkins, but what about employees who can't devote every waking hour to their jobs, who have children at home, or aging parents? According to a 2004 survey of faculty in the School of Medicine, 94 percent of women with dependent children were the primary or shared caregiver, compared with only 64 percent of men. Further, 86 percent of women and 49 percent of men reported that childcare responsibilities had "significantly" or "somewhat" slowed their career progress.

The result is that qualified women don't apply for leadership positions, says Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics in the Bloomberg School who chaired the faculty subcommittee of the University Committee on the Status of Women. "The implicit assumption is that leaders must draw on their own physical, emotional, or time reserves in exchange for stature," she says. "The 24/7 ideal worker expectations make [leadership] roles unattractive to women."

For women, it can feel like there is little balance between work and all of their other responsibilities, says Julia Morgan, A&S '76, assistant secretary to the board of trustees and a member of the University Committee on the Status of Women. "An expectation of excellence translates into being so devoted to your science and your school that everything else comes last," says Morgan, who has worked at Hopkins for 31 years. "If you don't fit into that mold, you feel like you are not taken seriously. And it seems that more women than men don't fit the mold."

The report recommends redefining the "ideal worker" by creating policies that offer flexibility in the structure of work arrangements and ensure that employees who work less than full time can be considered for promotion. The committee suggested that under the guidelines for sponsored research, faculty working less than full time be eligible to receive grant funding. The report also recommends that departments not schedule important meetings on evenings and weekends, and urges the university to develop a comprehensive strategy to address continuing concerns about dependent care.

Many divisions already have made changes aimed at fostering work/life balance. In the School of Medicine's Department of Medicine, medical grand rounds are now held on Fridays instead of Saturdays, and the dean's quarterly lecture is held at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. Employees at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory have the option of using flextime or compressed work schedules.

In the Krieger School, male and female faculty can "stop the clock" on tenure for a year for an extraordinary circumstance like the birth or adoption of a child, and they can be relieved from teaching duties for a semester after becoming a parent. In addition, faculty members come up for tenure in their seventh year instead of their 10th. "For young faculty this has reduced some of the stress they feel about when they should start a family," says Falk.

Culture: Maybe a woman gets comments on her appearance as part of a critique of a presentation she gave. Or maybe she's told that she "doesn't look like a Hopkins professor" or is ignored by a senior faculty member when walking down a hallway. Or, more seriously, maybe she's paid less than a man for doing the same job.

"It still happens that [women] get unintentionally overlooked, left out, or don't get the same type of support as men," says Lisa Heiser, assistant dean for faculty development and equity at the School of Medicine.

It's reflective of an underlying culture that can be hostile to women, and changing it isn't going to be easy. "Culture is the hardest thing to change," says Brody. "You can give people incentives to do things. But culture requires people to change. And that usually means changing the people."

The appointment last summer of Johnson as the second-highest-ranking person at the university is considered by many to be a major step. Johnson, who served as dean of Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, says that diversity is not just a moral obligation but a national imperative. "It's important to have a culture that reflects the demographics of the world we live in," she says. "It's also important to have a culture where individuals feel valued."

Hiring more women as leaders will help the problem, but that's only the beginning. "Some people say you've got to change a culture before you can hire more women and minorities," Hayes says. "Other people say that hiring more women and minorities is what changes the culture. I believe you have to work on the numbers and the policies simultaneously. It may be about changing people's expectations. It may be about changing attitudes. It may be about removing obstacles. Over time, when there is real culture change, the people who gravitate toward the institution will be those who embody that new culture."

"Over time, when there is real culture change, the people who gravitate toward the institution will be those who embody that new culture." Paying women and men at the same scale is an obvious part of that. The Krieger School and the School of Medicine have begun periodic salary checks. Medicine performs them annually and reports that the pay gap has been reduced from 6 percent to 3 percent. In Arts and Sciences, the most recent salary study in 2002 showed no statistically significant salary differential between men and women faculty.

Landau also says that mentoring will help. It is critical for students and younger faculty to have the support of senior women who have risen through the ranks at the university while balancing their work with the rest of their lives. "There are enough models out there that show you can do it, but there's a real need for women to talk to other women," says Landau. Much of the mentoring that goes on in her Language and Cognition Lab is informal, but she'd like to start a series of workshops in Arts and Sciences so that young women would have a more formal way to connect with women in senior positions. "The opportunity for networking is huge, and it's really important, especially for departments that have very few women," she says.

From the beginning, members of the University Committee on the Status of Women knew they weren't just engaging in busy work by documenting problems that dozens of previous reports had already covered. They wanted change. "I don't want this report to just sit on a shelf somewhere when it's done," Fried would tell the group at monthly committee meetings.

Vision 2020 is formidable — 162 pages long. Just its recommendations for change take up 15 pages. After its release last November, some committee members worried that not enough was being done, that instead of bringing about gender equity at Hopkins, Vision 2020 was headed for the shelf. "There was a real call for fairly swift action in the report, and I think there's been some frustration university-wide that we haven't moved to implement some of the key recommendations," says Heiser. "One of the things that was clear in the Vision 2020 report was that we can't make progress only with volunteers. We really need an office staffed with people who are dedicated to the task, who are given the resources they need and held accountable for outcomes."

Much of the work for translating Vision 2020 into policy has become the responsibility of the Commission on Equality, Civility, and Respect. The group was formed a year ago after the university adopted a statement of principles to ensure equity, civility, and respect for all, as recommended by Vision 2020. The 28-person group comprises students, faculty, and staff charged with recommending ways to turn those principles into policies that will encourage a culture that embraces the contributions of women and underrepresented minorities. Their report, which will include strategies for implementing many of the recommendations of Vision 2020, is expected to be complete by the end of the 2007 academic year, says Hayes, co-chair of the commission.

Morgan was a member of one of the first classes with female undergraduates at Hopkins in 1973. During her three decades of working at Hopkins, she served as chair of the Women's Forum and has been active on a number of committees on the status of women. A former university archivist, she has written a history of women at Hopkins and knows how hard it's been for women here over the years. She's certain that improving work balance, changing culture, and hiring more women leaders will benefit all — men and women, faculty and staff, students and administrators. "You can't change history," she says. "What you can change is the future. Hopkins has lagged behind. But Hopkins has the opportunity to move ahead if it takes the recommendations in Vision 2020 seriously."

In her office in Garland Hall, Morgan has a shelf filled with more than a dozen reports from other university committees that have looked at women's issues over the years. The reports take up more than a foot of space. As she slides Vision 2020 up onto the shelf with the others, she wonders whether at last, change is on the horizon. She hopes it is.

"We've been talking about this for over 20 years," she says, running her finger across the spines of past reports. "Why can't we do something?"

Maria Blackburn is a senior writer at Johns Hopkins Magazine.

A Timeline of Women at Hopkins
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