Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D.
The Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwestern University
Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., The Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwestern University
The professional health of women in academic science has been grim for years. While the gender gap is narrowing for Ph.D. students, only 22 percent of full professors are female. Moreover, female grant recipients receive significantly lower grant amounts than men from the start of their careers.
Perhaps as a consequence, the difference in the number of males and females becomes more pronounced in leadership areas, where women represent only 16 percent of current deans and 15 percent of department chairs.
A complicated history
In 1776, first lady Abigail Adams made a famous plea in her letter to her husband, John Adams, and the members of the Continental Congress: “In the new code of laws… I desire you would remember the ladies… If particular care is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
The inclusion of women in civic life and in professional ranks are part of a continuum: as in the public sphere, so in discovery and research, and in life. Indeed, the health of our society depends on the innovation and skills of us all, and a better prescription is urgently needed to ensure that our voices are heard and our work is equally valued.
The path forward
I was one of few women when I began my career in the biological sciences 30 years ago. Today, I am humbled by the brilliant women who surround me at the bench and in science leadership. In my lifetime, these women have contributed in amazing ways: they have described how chromosomes are protected and age, sexed the microbiome, and engineered a functional ovary.
As Marie Curie famously said, “We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” Our contributions are of continued necessity to a healthy society.