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National Research Council (US) Committee on Women in Science and Engineering; Shaywitz S, Hahm J, editors. Achieving XXcellence in Science: Role of Professional Societies in Advancing Women in Science: Proceedings of a Workshop AXXS 2002. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004.

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Achieving XXcellence in Science: Role of Professional Societies in Advancing Women in Science: Proceedings of a Workshop AXXS 2002.

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From AXXS '99 to AXXS 2002

, PhD.

National Center of Leadership in Academic Medicine



Dr. Page Morahan will bring us up to date from AXXS '99 to 2002. Dr. Morahan is co-director of the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Program for Women at Drexel University School of Medicine. And she served as founding director of the National Center of Leadership in Academic Medicine at the Medical College of Pennsylvania. The goal of the center is to develop and implement mentoring programs within academic medicine in order to foster gender equity in medicine and promote the advancement of both women and men junior faculty into senior faculty leadership positions. The center at the Medical College of Pennsylvania is one of four centers sponsored and supported by the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health [NIH].


I've had the pleasure of being involved with this effort since the beginning of the AXXS '99 meeting and look forward to bringing you up to date.

The Office of Research on Women's Health and 20 other NIH entities sponsored the first meeting in 1999. Participating in that workshop were a hundred people from a hundred different societies, but few clinical societies. One of the reasons for this meeting today is to bring on board the clinical research societies. In AXXS '99 we proposed 14 different initiatives within four themes: (1) leadership, visibility, and recognition of women; (2) mentoring and networking; (3) effective practices; and (4) oversight, tracking, and accountability.

Leadership, Visibility, and Recognition of Women

Four of the initiatives under this theme follow the work of Robin Ely and Deborah Myerson who laid out the best strategies to increase numbers of women.5 The first, the “fix the woman” strategy, gives women skills they may not have. Leadership programs and mentoring programs fall under this approach. The second strategy is to value the feminine—in other words, value the different skills and emphases that women bring to research, and validate them by increased recognition and visibility. The third approach is to create equal opportunity. That would include issuing report cards, for example, on how many women are selected for committee memberships and ensuring equal access to these types of positions.

These three strategies are very important, but they are not sufficient. They increase the numbers of women, but they do not change the fundamental playing field. This is where the fourth strategy comes in—to assess and revise the work culture. In fact, this is part of the effort of AXXS: to create an umbrella organization to examine strategically ways to change the culture of scientific societies so that women's contributions will be more valued. This effort has been spear-headed by Sue Shafer and a coordinating group that was part of the original AXXS planning team. This has been an excellent approach to keeping an effort going and producing some important initiatives that this workshop can now build on.

Mentoring and Networking

Our first major effort under the second theme, mentoring and networking, was to create the AXXS Web site, which now averages about 400 hits a day. It is being further developed as a resource for women in science who are searching for publications and Web links. We'd like for this Web site to serve as a clearinghouse for information on women, science, and strategies for success.

Another major initiative has been to establish an “effective practices” clearinghouse. The first effective practices that we gathered—organizational practices to advance the careers of women in science—are available on the AXXS Web site, and we hope to add more after this meeting. So we challenge all of you and your societies, such as the AACR, to send in practices, particularly those that are different from ones already up on the Web site. We hope that you will steal the ideas of everyone else and use them in your societies.

Oversight, Tracking, and Accountability

The fourth theme—oversight, tracking, and accountability—requires, we believe, an oversight organization. The Association for Women in Science, or AWIS, is a very useful and powerful organization, but it does not address primarily leadership issues. In academic medicine and dentistry, there is the Society of Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine, but it doesn't include all of the other sciences, math, engineering, and technology. We believe there is a need for an umbrella organization.

It also is very important to establish a report card on the status of women in science and engineering. This has been an exceedingly useful approach in business. Catalyst ( is a research organization that does an annual report card on the number of women in top leadership positions in Fortune 1000 companies in the United States and Canada and on the boards of those companies. It is highly public, highly publicized. Catalyst has really moved the competitive spirit of corporations and made the business case for the importance of having women on corporate boards.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has used the same approach, publishing an annual report card of medical schools. These days, deans and medical schools don't like to be known as being down on the bottom. They'd much rather be known as one of the top 10 schools for the number of women chairs and division chiefs.

And there have been the ripple effects. These are positive, unintended consequences from starting an effort like AXXS. We need to remember the importance of these effects. They may not be in “the strategic plan,” but they are important outgrowths. In the last round of the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE awards were four that meshed very closely with AXXS priorities. Two were the collaborative efforts taken on by the American Chemical Society and the Gordon Research Conferences. And the Gerontological Society of America has begun tracking membership by gender, which it had not done before. Finally, the group Women in Cancer Research has initiated a mid-career mentoring workshop. All of these may seem like small projects, but each of them sends out ripples that can make a difference over the years.

These ripple effects are discussed in Deborah Myerson's book, Tempered Radicals.6 This book shows the importance of small effects by people who choose to work within the system. I call us people who rock the boat but not enough to be dumped out. There is a level of progression from the small activities that we can do, such as supporting flexible work arrangements for the people in our laboratories or our clinical units, on to larger, more organized efforts. That's what we hope to develop today, so I look forward to seeing what will come out of this workshop.

Questions and Answers

Participant: I'm Joanne Kaufman, executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics—the first executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics. On the ripple effects, I would just like to add that we should seriously look into additional ways to work within the national and other umbrella organizations rather than create a separate organization. I would suggest collaboration with the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology on the basic science side. Another hat I wear is genetics representative to the American Board of Medical Specialties, which is certainly a bastion that needs to be changed. It has a General Assembly of about 120 voting members, and the last time we met 13 women were voting in the assembly.

Which brings me back to one other point, and that is home institution–based rather than just society-based initiatives. Of those 13 women, three of us were from the University of Maryland. Two of us happened to be in surgical specialties. The nurturing from our home institution allowed us to step forward nationally in ways that were very useful. So I agree with you wholeheartedly on working within the system.

Dr. Morahan: In talking about the universities and societies, it really is necessary to work both ways. Sometimes when women become more visible in societies, they are more likely to be tapped for something in their university. Then the reverse can happen, as you described at the University of Maryland. So both ends need to be addressed.

Participant: I'm Roberta E. Sonnino, associate dean for women in medicine and special programs at the University of Kansas. By the way, I'm also representing Dr. Deborah Powell, a member of the steering committee, to some degree. And I'm also here on behalf of the Association of Women Surgeons. To follow up what was just said, one of my concerns that I hope will be answered here is that I know three or four of the groups represented at this meeting are already kinds of sub-branches. The Association of Women Surgeons that I'm representing is a good example. We're already a group of women who are trying to do something. Obviously, I represent one of the specialties that needs help the most. Kimberly Ephgrave is here from orthopedics. Are there other surgeons in the group, or are we it? No, we're it. That was my fear.

Listening to you speak, Page, I realize that we really need to get to the mainstream organizations. I'm not saying that we're not mainstream, but when I report back to my executive council I'm preaching to the choir. So I'd like to encourage everybody to help me. How do I get to the American Surgical Association, the American College of Surgeons—all the places where we don't even manage to get our toe in the door, let alone convince them to put up a mentoring workshop for women? Kim and I are in the male-dominated specialties. We're very much looking for help from the group.

Participant: I'm Mahin Khatami, president of Graduate Women in Science in Bethesda, Omicron chapter. I'm very glad you mentioned the importance of leadership for women. I think the impediments to professional women who want to achieve senior intellectual positions within a society, within government, or within universities can be very serious and are an important factor that needs to be considered within the system.

Nobody wants to rock the boat and end up in the sea, but when a woman is competing for seniority in an intellectually sensitive situation, the backlash against her and the retaliation against her can be very serious. The solution I have for this type of situation could be considered an intellectual protection committee.

Dr. Shaywitz: Important issues have been raised on a number of points. One is that all women are not the same and that we do need to look at the different needs of various groups of women.

Participant: I'm Deborah Carper, chair of the NIH Women Scientist Advisory Council. Dr. Morahan, I particularly wanted to emphasize one of the action plans included in your presentation: to develop the database of women scientists. At the NIH we just finished a report on leadership positions. Not surprising to us, we found that 40–50 percent of entry-level positions, the training grants, were occupied by women, and that as few as 5 percent of tenured positions were held by women. In particular we need to be able to recruit and to promote women scientists, and bring them in on search committees. To do that, we could compile a national registry or a database of women scientists, so that we could quickly go to this list. As it stands now, when we do a search or we're asked to put women on a scientific council at the NIH, the women in each institute have to come up quickly, sometimes by the end of that day, with a list of 12–15 women who could serve on these search committees and boards of scientific counselors.

It's imperative for us to consider in our action plan compiling a list of women scientists nationally and internationally, so that not only the women but also people working in the administrative areas can have access to a list of women scientists who would be willing to serve on these important positions that lead to our attaining senior leadership roles.

Dr. Morahan: I couldn't agree with you more that we need higher visibility and a better network of women. A database is one way to help do that.



Robin Ely and Deborah Myerson, Research in Organizational Behavior (New York: JAI Press, 2001).


Deborah E. Myerson, Tempered Radicals: How People Use Difference to Inspire Change at Work (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001).

Copyright © 2004, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK25368


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