THE IMPACT OF COVID-19
ON THE CAREERS OF WOMEN IN ACADEMIC
SCIENCES, ENGINEERING, AND MEDICINE
Eve Higginbotham and Maria Lund Dahlberg, Editors
Committee on Investigating the Potential Impacts of COVID-19 on the
Careers of Women in Academic Science, Engineering, and Medicine
Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine
Policy and Global Affairs
A Consensus Study Report of
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This activity was supported by contracts between the National Institutes of Health (IDIQ contract HHSN263201800029I, TO #75N98020F00008), the National Science Foundation (Award #OIA-1762395), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Contract #SB134117CQ0017, TO #1333ND20FNB100250), the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (Award #G-2020-13993), and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (Award #2020136). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-26837-0
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-26837-0
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/26061
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. The Impact of COVID-19 on the Careers of Women in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26061.
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COMMITTEE ON THE INVESTIGATING THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF COVID-19 ON THE CAREERS OF WOMEN IN ACADEMIC SCIENCE, ENGINEERING, AND MEDICINE
EVE J. HIGGINBOTHAM (NAM) (Chair), Vice Dean of Inclusion and Diversity, Senior Fellow in the Leonard Davis Institute of Health, and Professor of Ophthalmology, University of Pennsylvania
ELENA FUENTES-AFFLICK (NAM), Professor and Vice Chair of Pediatrics, Chief of Pediatrics at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and Vice Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
LESLIE D. GONZALES, Associate Professor in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Learning Unit in the College of Education, Michigan State University
JENI HART, Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Missouri
RESHMA JAGSI, Newman Family Professor and Deputy Chair in the Department of Radiation Oncology and Director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan
LEAH JAMIESON (NAE), Ransburg Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, John A. Edwardson Dean Emerita of the College of Engineering, and Professor by courtesy in the School of Engineering Education, Purdue University
ERICK C. JONES, George and Elizabeth Pickett Endowed Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Engineering, University of Texas at Arlington
BERONDA MONTGOMERY, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory, and Interim Assistant Vice President of Research and Innovation, Michigan State University
KYLE MYERS, Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Technology and Operations Management Unit, Harvard Business School
RENETTA TULL, Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, University of California, Davis
MARIA LUND DAHLBERG, Study Director
ARIELLE BAKER, Program Officer
IMANI BRAXTON-ALLEN, Senior Program Assistant
JEENA M. THOMAS, Program Officer
THOMAS RUDIN, Director, Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (until November 2020)
BARDIA MASSOUDKHAN, Senior Finance Business Partner
JOE ALPER, Consulting Editor
COMMITTEE ON WOMEN IN SCIENCE, ENGINEERING, AND MEDICINE
GILDA BARABINO (NAE/NAM) (Current Chair), President, Olin College of Engineering
JOAN WENNSTROM BENNETT (NAS) (Previous Chair), Distinguished Professor of Plant Biology and Pathology and Associate Vice President in the Office for Promotion of Women in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, Rutgers University (Chair until December 2020)
NANCY ANDREWS, (NAS/NAM) Dean of the Duke University School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Nanaline H. Duke Professor of Pediatrics, and Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University
MAY BERENBAUM, (NAS) Professor and Head of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
ANA MARI CAUCE, President, University of Washington (until December 2020)
VALERIE CONN, President, Science Philanthropy Alliance
MACHI DILWORTH, Vice President (Retired), Gender Equality and Human Resource Development, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (until December 2020)
EVELYNN M. HAMMONDS, (NAM) Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science, Professor of African and African American Studies, and Chair of the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University
HILARY LAPPIN-SCOTT, Professor, Cardiff University, United Kingdom
ED LAZOWSKA, (NAE) Bill & Melinda Gates Chair, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington
VALERIE TAYLOR, Director, Mathematics and Computer Science Division, U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory
ELENA FUENTES-AFFLICK, (NAM) Home Secretary of the National Academy of Medicine, Professor and Vice Chair of Pediatrics, Chief of Pediatrics at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and Vice Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
CAROL K. HALL, (NAE) Home Secretary of the National Academy of Engineering, Camille Dreyfus Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, North Carolina State University
SUSAN R. WESSLER, (NAS) Home Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, Neil A. and Rochelle A. Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovation in Science Education, University of California, Riverside
AUSTEN APPLEGATE, Research Associate
ARIELLE BAKER, Program Officer
ASHLEY BEAR, Senior Program Officer
FRAZIER BENYA, Senior Program Officer
IMANI BRAXTON-ALLEN, Senior Program Assistant
MARIA LUND DAHLBERG, Senior Program Officer
MARIE HARTON, Program Officer
ALEX HELMAN, Program Officer
REBEKAH HUTTON, Program Officer
THOMAS RUDIN, Board Director (until November 2020)
JEENA M. THOMAS, Program Officer
JOHN VERAS, Senior Program Assistant
MARQUITA WHITING, Senior Program Assistant
“A year like no other”1 is an often-repeated phrase, given our collective experiences during 2020. The day before the start of the New Year, a mysterious illness was reported in China after dozens of people visited a live animal market in Wuhan. The first death was reported in mid-January. By the end of January, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency, and the first suspected case was reported in the United States at the end of February. It was not until March 2020 that a federal emergency was declared, and since then we have been on what feels like a collective roller coaster, punctuated by fear, sadness, and hope.2
As I write this Preface during the close of 2020, the Food and Drug Administration provided emergency approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, the United States once again experienced its highest daily reported number of COVID-19–related deaths, the Supreme Court recently dismissed a lawsuit intended to overturn the outcome of last month’s presidential race, and institutions and organizations across the nation are shifting to more intentional strategies to address structural racism. Added to the backdrop of this theater of disruption, there have been record-breaking fires on the West Coast and hurricanes and tornados elsewhere. Once again, the significant rise in COVID-19 cases across the country has translated into school districts, restaurants, and brick-and-mortar businesses closing down. To complete the image of this moment, the passage of a much-needed federal relief bill remains uncertain. Even as I reflect on the ongoing effects of
1 Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain. COVID-19: Twelve key milestones in a year like no other. November 26, 2020. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-11-covid-twelve-key-milestones-year.html.
2 E. Schumaker. Timeline: How coronavirus got started. ABCNews. September 22, 2020, 11:55 a.m. Available at https://abcnews.go.com/Health/timeline-coronavirus-started/story?id=69435165.
climate change, protests calling for social justice, and the impact of economic volatility, it is clear that this year is only a preview of similar confluences of disruptors to come.
It is incredible to believe that less than 1 year ago, the report Promising Practices for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine3 (the Promising Practices report) was released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. As a reviewer of that consensus study report, I appreciated the summary of the current state of the representation of women across disciplines, the focus on intersectionality, particularly Women of Color, and the impressive list of evidence-based interventions that was advanced as promising practices. It provided a platform for launching, with renewed vigor, initiatives that may enable us to turn the corner and accelerate the advancement of women in academia. Considering that more than half of the population in the United States identifies as women, if we do not address our underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM), the country is leaving an enormous magnitude of intellectual capital on the table. Innovation, enhanced decision-making, and profitability of corporations have been attributed to greater diversity.4 Indeed, given the enormous value of diversity, the subtitle of the Promising Practices report, “Opening Doors,” inspires an element of optimism and hope that continued progress is within our grasp.
It is fortunate that the sponsors of this current report, the National Institutes of Health, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, partnered with the National Academies to stand up this committee to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on the academic careers of women in STEMM. After all, in these unprecedented times, the interventions enumerated in the Promising Practices report were no longer grounded in an environment that was encased in certainty. The questions that were embedded in our Statement of Task for this report were relevant and critically important to the future representation and viability of academic women in STEMM. Was there harm imposed on women when specific interventions were undertaken? Are women and men affected differently when these interventions are implemented? What are the unique challenges that women are facing during this COVID-19 pandemic? What are the early indicators of impacts to the career trajectories of women in STEMM? These are critical questions to better understand how we as an academic community can emerge from this pandemic with continued advancement of women rather than a
3 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Promising Practices for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine: Opening Doors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25585.
4 U.S. Glass Ceiling Commission. 1995. Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation’s Human Capital. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/key_workplace/116/.
reduction in the engagement of women in our scientific workforce and a deflation in the expanse of dreams of durable professional careers. An appropriate subtitle for this report, building on the work of the Promising Practices report, may have been “Keeping the Doors Open—Key Questions Unanswered.”
Predictably, there was not a massive body of peer-reviewed literature upon which the committee could determine its list of findings and proposed research questions. However, five commissioned papers in key topical areas provided a rich resource for the committee’s deliberations. Career trajectories, work-life integration, collaboration and networking, leadership and decision-making, and mental health and well-being made up our foci. We also addressed important cross-cutting issues such as the impact of the pandemic on Women of Color. From a range of literature sources, including reviews of relevant material from before the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors of the commissioned papers provided the committee with evidence to support a set of key findings and develop research questions for further investigation. Given how much is at stake, understanding the impact of COVID-19 on the careers of women in STEMM is of utmost importance.
On a personal level, I relate to many of the challenges described in this report and admit that the intensification of them during the current pandemic is nearly unimaginable. My caregiving responsibilities and the difficulties of integrating my personal and professional responsibilities were heightened in the middle of my career, following Hurricane Katrina. My parents, who were in their 90s at the time, came to live with my husband and me in Maryland. Although our family home in New Orleans was fine, I did not believe the health-care system and social services infrastructure in my hometown had recovered enough to effectively care for my parents living alone. My husband and I quickly shifted to preparing regular meals at home, hurriedly sought out caregivers to come in periodically to assist us, and ensured that we made all of their necessary doctors’ appointments between our professional commitments. Taking up caregiving responsibilities after work, preparing the pill boxes late at night, and canceling visiting professorships at the last minute because of periodic emergencies and hospital admissions were new challenges that I had not previously experienced in my adult working life. Indeed, I wrote fewer papers and accepted fewer speaking invitations, deepening my personal concern that my profession would perceive these absences more harshly, considering that I am a woman, and particularly as a Woman of Color.
I recognize that if I had experienced these challenges earlier in my career, I would never have made it to positions of department chair or dean. With the added constraints and circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, I acknowledge that mothers today have taken on the roles of teacher and caregiver, often without the possibility of external assistance that was available to me. Moreover, I was fortunate to have a supportive spouse; however, in the absence of a partner, there is rarely time for self-care, scholarship, or other professional responsibilities. Our
gendered roles in society take on added emphasis during periods of stress, the timing of which can make or break careers. It is time for institutions to consider new strategies to support the careers of women across their entire career timeline and embrace professional norms to alternative constructs other than a “hustle” culture.
It is my hope that this report will not only advance the discussion about how best to enhance the representation and vitality of academic women in STEMM, but create an awareness about the adverse impact that these unprecedented times will have on women going forward. It is also my hope that the research questions posed by this committee will translate into enduring solutions that will strengthen institutional interventions to weather future disruptions.
I appreciate the wisdom of the National Academies and our sponsors to take on this topic, the trusted guidance of the staff of the National Academies, the authors of our commissioned papers who sought the evidence that was needed, and the generosity of valuable time and energy of my fellow committee members who were so willing to expertly share their wisdom on prolonged Zoom calls. At our last meeting, I closed our session with the following quote, which has been attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”5 It is my dream that the promise of the research that evolves from the questions that have been posed will not only shed a light on the opportunities to listen, learn, strategize, and implement, but will effectively facilitate our shared journey toward gender equity in academia.
Eve Higginbotham, Chair
Committee on Investigating the Potential the Impacts of COVID-19 on the Careers of Women in Academic Science, Engineering, and Medicine
5 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., quoted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. https://www.si.edu/spotlight/mlk?page=4&iframe=true.
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Huda Akil, University of Michigan; Robin Bell, Columbia University; Michelle Cardel, University of Florida; Reginald DesRoches, Rice University; Kathryn Holland, University of Nebraska; Monica Johnson, Washington State University; Karen Kafadar, University of Virginia; Christy Lemak, University of Alabama; Eleni Linos, Stanford University; Tony Liss, The City College of New York; Nancy Rigotti, Massachusetts General Hospital; and Sonia Zárate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Katherine Freeman, Pennsylvania State University, and Bryna Kra, Northwestern University. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
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Appendix A: Literature Review Terms and Survey Methodology for “Boundaryless Work: The Impact of COVID-19 on Work-Life Boundary Management, Integration, and Gendered Divisions of Labor for Academic Women in STEMM,” by Ellen Ernst Kossek, Tammy D. Allen, and Tracy L. Dumas
Appendix B: Methodology and Data Sources for the “Academic STEMM Labor Market, Productivity, and Institutional Responses,” by Felicia A. Jefferson, Matthew T. Hora, Sabrina L. Pickens, and Hal Salzman
Appendix C: Material Selection Process for “The Impact of COVID-19 on Collaboration, Mentorship and Sponsorship, and Role of Networks and Professional Organizations,” by Misty Heggeness and Rochelle Williams
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