Panel: Opportunity, mentorship can aid in gender equality

Speakers at table
Panel member Dr. Jenny Hsieh makes a point during the annual women faculty reception, hosted by the Office of Women’s Careers and the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee. Joining her in the discussion were (from left) Drs. Nancy Rollins, Sandra Schmid, and Sharon Reimold.

By Lin Lofley

Speaking as part of a panel discussion at the annual women faculty reception, four UT Southwestern Medical Center leaders considered the topic, “Is Leaning In Enough?” and agreed that it is an important first step, although societal and institutional changes will also be important to achieve gender equity. 

Dr. Carole Mendelson, Professor of Biochemistry and Obstetrics and Gynecology and Co-Chair of the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee (WISMAC) along with Dr. Naomi Winick, Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Helen Yin, Assistant Dean for the Office of Women’s Careers, welcomed attendees, including campus leaders and a number of department chairs, both male and female. The event was jointly hosted by the Office of Women’s Careers and WISMAC.

Dr. Yin, also Professor of Physiology, encouraged everyone to be aware of the unseen hurdles that face women who aspire to lead. “Unconscious gender bias is like a million glass hurdles,” she said. “It’s important to begin a conversation here at UT Southwestern, and if we form a coalition, then we’re all the better for it.”

Dr. Winick introduced the panel – Dr. Nancy Rollins, Professor of Radiology and Pediatrics; Dr. Sandra Schmid, Chair of Cell Biology; Dr. Sharon Reimold, Professor of Internal Medicine; and Dr. Jenny Hsieh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology. The group addressed a variety of topics, recounted some of their own career experiences, and answered questions from the audience.

Dr. Rollins urged attendees to “contribute as part of a team and learn to compartmentalize. Focus on work at work, and do whatever you have to do, pay whomever you need to pay, to make certain that your household runs smoothly. Learn to manage expectations, and then go to work.”

Dr. Schmid said, “We have an assistant professorship open right now. Only 24 percent of the applicants are women; in Cell Biology, 50 percent of our postdocs are women.”

Dr. Reimold spoke on the importance of having a mentor, and of saying “yes” to opportunities. “When you’re young, the opportunities might not be that exciting. But in order to get to do work that you want to do, you have to start out with those commitments.”

A cardiology initiative, Dr. Reimold said, has resulted in a successful blending of eight faculty members who are on part-time status. “Seven of the eight are women,” she pointed out, “and it’s been going for more than a decade.

“A couple things make it work. Everything is pro-rated, so I make sure that we’re as close as what we can be to what a full-time person has.  And all those people realize that they are part of a team of people, so that if someone else’s work is picking up, then they can pitch in and make it all work.”

Much like her colleagues, Dr. Hsieh said that when she read Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, she realized “that perhaps I’ve been participating in Lean In circles all my life.”  She offered a few examples, including a journal club that she and two young researchers created while at Johns Hopkins University, and when, as a postdoctoral researcher, she and several colleagues united to work and talk their way through their projects.

The panel discussion followed keynote remarks by Nina Vaca, founder, chairman and CEO of Dallas-based Pinnacle Technical Resources, an information technology company that provides information technology staff augmentation services, professional staffing, and payroll services for Fortune 500 companies.

Ms. Vaca, a member of Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In launch team, praised Ruben Esquivel, UT Southwestern Vice President for Community and Corporate Relations, for long being one of her mentors.

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Dr. Reimold holds the Gail Griffiths Hill Chair in Cardiology.

Dr. Rollins holds the Charles Cameron Sprague, M.D., Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Schmid holds the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology.

Dr. Winick holds the Lowe Foundation Professorship in Pediatric Neuro-Oncology.

Dr. Yin holds the Peter and Jean D. Dehlinger Professorship in Biomedical Science.

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