Jeffery Flier, dean of the Faculty of Medicine, gave the opening remarks at the inaugural Dean’s Lectureship on Feb. 25, a lecture series that will feature prominent HMS alumni who are leaders in academic medicine, which, said Flier, certainly describes Eve Higginbotham, the afternoon’s speaker.
Higginbotham, the dean and senior vice president for academic affairs at Morehouse School of Medicine, spoke on the topic of “Cracking the Glass Ceiling in Academic Medicine,” a title, she said, that reflected her optimism for the future and not necessarily the current state of affairs.
Higginbotham, who graduated from HMS in 1979 and is an ophthalmologist by training, discussed a plateau that women have hit in career advancement in academic medicine. Reflecting upon her own days at medical school, she marveled at the strides made in recruiting talented female and underrepresented minority students, but questioned why this has not translated into more diversity in medical faculty, particularly in leadership roles like department chair. “When one has such a diverse group from which to draw, why do so few women make it to leadership positions in academia?”
She pointed out that women are relatively well represented in the lower faculty ranks, but their numbers drop off at the associate professor and professor levels. She also noted that women, along with underrepresented minorities, tend to have high attrition rates, citing one study finding that 43 percent of female faculty members leave their positions within 10 years.
As one of only 14 female medical school deans in the United States, Higginbotham shared some of the lessons she learned as she made her way to the top, including some of the struggles she faced as a young woman of color in medical school. She stressed the need for a “critical mass” of people who value the development of women into leaders in academic medicine, saying that changing the culture was the only way to start chipping away at the glass ceiling.
Finally, Higginbotham urged HMS, as a major force in academic medicine, to take a leadership role in the recruitment, retention and career development of women faculty members.