“Who are the faces on the wall of your academic institution?” asks Valerie Press, M.D., M.P.H, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at The University of Chicago. “If you only or mostly celebrate men—white men, in particular—there’s a diversity issue.”

Dr. Press, along with colleagues Megan Huisingh-Scheetz, M.D., and Julie Oyler, M.D., recently published a paper in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that details their successful pilot program to improve female representation for academic institutional awards. Titled, “#SheForShe: Increasing Nominations Significantly Increased Institutional Awards for Deserving Academic Women,” the paper sheds light on their relatively simple intervention for boosting equity in the award nomination process.

“Gender inequality is a historic issue across every discipline, but it continues to be especially prevalent in the world of academia,” explained Dr. Press, a recipient of the American Lung Association’s 2019-2020 Innovation Award. “These biases stem from those in a position of privilege and power, then continue to manifest in each facet of life, on all levels. It’s essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy through men’s tendency to recognize only other men.” 

They set out to challenge and change this trajectory. Dr. Oyler, the concept originator, assembled a subcommittee of women at The University of Chicago to first systematically review the institutional awards that are available within the Department of Medicine and the Biologic Sciences Division. Later, the subcommittee members underwent the laborious process of pairing the awards with potential female nominees across the Department’s 15 sections, aiming for one nomination per category. Once nominees had been identified, people helped facilitate and streamline the nomination procedures, from formatting recommendation letters to ensuring that submission deadlines were met.

Subcommittee chair Dr. Press continued, “Awards are not only a nice way to receive feedback from professional peers, but they also contribute toward promotions and research grant opportunities. Our low-resource approach proved to increase awards to women which could help level the playing field.” 

During the experiment, by including at least one nomination per category, the proportion of women awardees increased to 56% from 29% at its previous peak. 

“While stewarding award wins is the ultimate goal, it’s such a joy to these women to just be nominated,” concluded Dr. Press, mentioning a desire to attract interest at institutions across the country to rollout a similar female-centric nomination system. “Recognition by a peer, men and women alike, is in itself an honor and truly feels good. Together, we can pool our resources and persist to raise the bar, giving even more credit where credit is due.”

The Lung Association is proud to support and fund many female scientists, both in our Awards & Grants Program and Airways Clinical Research Centers Network. To learn more about our researchers, visit: Lung.org/research-team.

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