Dr. Reshma Jagsi joins women’s leadership group in contemplating culture change

Oregon Health & Science University| Fri May 12 01:05:36 EDT 2017
Dr. Reshma Jagsi joins women’s leadership group in contemplating culture change

During her residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, Reshma Jagsi, M.D., Ph.D., remembers the key role that mentorship played in her success as a young woman in academic medicine.

"I started studying these issues because of the influence of a wonderful mentor who took me under her wing, made me part of her women-in-academic-medicine committee, and inspired me to improve the evidence base for designing interventions," said Dr. Jagsi, deputy chair of radiation oncology and director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "Much of my research has ended up illuminating the critical importance of mentorship in helping to address the causal mechanisms by which gender inequity develops in academic medicine."

Dr. Jagsi brought her expertise in gender inequity to the OHSU Women's Research Leadership Group May 3 as part of her Research Week visit during which she gave a keynote address. Mary Stenzel-Poore, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research, OHSU School of Medicine, formed the Women's Research Leadership Group a year ago to support the growing influx of women leaders in research at OHSU and the need for culture change to ensure their success.

The WRLG, made up of over 30 senior women leaders in clinical and basic science departments, meets quarterly to discuss and develop actionable strategies to face the barriers specific to women in research and clinical leadership. Aiming to develop strategies that will have broader impacts for all faculty and administration at OHSU, the group has identified unconscious bias as this year's primary focus.

The group kicked off its focus last month with OHSU Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Brian Gibbs, Ph.D., to critically consider ways to address and overcome unconscious bias beyond initial training. Going forward, several members of the WRLG plan to participate in Dr. Gibbs' university-wide professional development to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias that can limit the development of diverse leadership at OHSU.

WRLG members believe their experiences also speak to the necessity and value of this women's leadership group.

"As an institution, we face a huge risk of losing women in leadership if we do not address the issues associated with role incongruity and work toward a culture of acceptance toward diverse leadership styles," said Mary Heinricher, Ph.D., associate dean for basic research and professor of neurological surgery, OHSU School of Medicine. "This group enables us to come together to better advocate for one another, serving as a forum for discussion."

The group is also a place for developing effective leadership strategies.

"Men and women communicate very differently. I believe that we often fail to hear one another because our communication styles can be so different," said Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., professor and chair of cell, developmental and cancer biology, OHSU School of Medicine, and associate director of basic research in the Knight Cancer Institute. "This group provides easy access to other women in leadership roles who assist me in developing appropriate filters to aid my communication skills. For me, aside from collegiality, as I don't play golf, this provides the added bonus of camaraderie. I don't necessarily turn to the group to ask how to lead, instead, it's more about helping me to be more effective."

Sharon Anderson, M.D., professor and chair of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, remarked on the value of coming together as a group.

"We are seeing more women in medical school, more women in faculty positions, and more women in the junior ranks. But what we need to see is more women in leadership," said Dr. Anderson. "But for those of us here now, I am pleased to see us all together, because we are much more powerful together."

During her visit with the WRLG, Dr. Jagsi shared several personal experiences that highlighted the effect of unconscious bias in her own career and applauded the efforts of the group to take this issue head on. 

She inspired a frank discussion about barriers and potential solutions to improve recruitment and retention of women in the biomedical sciences. She suggested, for example, adding a post doc position to recruitment packages for junior faculty, acknowledging the need for a team approach to allow for parenting obligations.

Among the long-term goals of the WRLG is to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, while implementing strategies to support them and their success. They describe their efforts as disruptive in a positive way. Dr. Jagsi applauded their efforts.

"Develop a visible initiative to support diversity and improve excellence," Dr. Jagsi encouraged them. "We need institutional transformation."

Pictured (top): The Women's Research Leadership Group, now with 30 members, was formed by Mary Stenzel-Poore, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research in the OHSU School of Medicine, (eighth from left) to support the growing influx of women leaders in research at OHSU and the need for culture change to ensure their success.

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