Women faculty: “multitasking like you’d never believe”

Drs. Korbus, Maier

A conversation with OHSU Women in Academic Health and Medicine

In a year that’s upended work and home, one group’s mission is more critical than ever.

Members of the OHSU Women in Academic Health and Medicine committee work to increase the visibility, leadership and professional success of women faculty on campus – from advocating for quality childcare to increasing the number of women serving in institutional leadership positions and other important initiatives.

This year, the committee includes about 22 members from schools and academic units across the university and operates as a standing committee of the Faculty Senate. Its eighth annual conference will take place virtually in January.

We spoke with this year’s co-chairs Amy Kobus, Ph.D. (above, left), psychologist, and associate professor of psychiatry, OHSU School of Medicine, and Marissa Maier, M.D. (above, right), staff physician, VA Portland Health Care System, and associate professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, OHSU School of Medicine.

What are member concerns right now?

Dr. Kobus: Women faculty members are multitasking like you’d never believe. They’re working, and they’re helping their kids with schooling. There’s a lot of stress, and they are challenged to be super flexible and accept that not everything will get done. But women faculty are finding ways to succeed. They’re staying positive. They are moving initiatives forward.

Dr. Maier: COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses that are already there. If someone is already being paid less than a similar colleague, then that person will feel a pay cut differently. It accentuates the gap. Also, virtual remote learning has really impacted some faculty, and that often falls along gender lines.

What are your priorities for the coming year?

Dr. Maier: We’re hearing that a lot of female faculty members are putting in hours more work outside OHSU, and that it’s impacting people’s ability to submit grants and write scholarly articles. So the biggest thing we’ll be doing is taking a look at how COVID-19 impacts opportunities for faculty progression at OHSU, such as people’s ability to be promoted through the promotion and tenure process, attain clinical leadership positions, submit grants and papers, and other academic activities.  

To that end, a working group led by Drs. Amy Moran and Patty Carney is developing a survey to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on academic progression. As part of that multi-month effort, we’ll be consulting with faculty of color, LGTBQ members and other underrepresented communities to make sure we’re asking the right questions.

Dr. Kobus: We know women faculty are navigating childcare and supporting their children’s learning while still continuing to work. Given that context, our hypothesis is that there is a significant, detrimental impact on productivity that could have implications for their career trajectory. We will study whether that is the case.

We’ll also continue our long-term project to review OHSU’s family leave policies and identify policies to augment and support the recruitment and retention of faculty.

Finally, we’ll be hosting our annual women’s leadership conference in January. The tentative theme is community and creativity in times of chaos.

How have you been personally affected?

Dr. Kobus: My kids are 10 and 13. I have a stable job and income, and my husband has the flexibility to with childcare responsibilities, but it’s been stressful. Anecdotally, I have heard the changes from covid are particularly impacting single women and women of color.

Dr. Maier: My kids are 7 and 11. It’s a nightmare. And I experience that stress from a position of privilege. My husband’s job stopped in March, but with my job we’re still okay. I’ve talked to an employee who is a single mom. She’s getting up at 4 a.m. to work for a few hours before she helps her kids with school. There are a lot of people experiencing enormous stress right now.

Why did you get involved in WAHM?

Dr. Kobus: Diversity issues have always been important to me, including gender issues. I’ve seen over time WAHM doing really interesting and important things for women faculty. I have also seen many women of faculty of color leave OHSU prematurely. I wanted to be part of a group of like-minded individuals who share similar concerns and interests, such as hiring and retaining bright, competent women, and creating a supportive community where we can do our best work.

Dr. Maier: Personally, I had frustrating experiences as a medical student and as a junior faculty member. I wanted to help create positive change for others. I was looking for an avenue for positive change and a community of people who are interested in gender equity. WAHM has been a great landing spot. I’ve gotten to know smart, dedicated, talented people whom I’d otherwise never meet.

Anything else?

Dr. Maier: As of July 1, 2019, we represent all schools and colleges. While membership is limited to faculty, we welcome any OHSU staff person from any of those schools to join our meetings and bring issues of concern. We’re a committee that really tries to effect change. We strive to be fun, collegial and supportive. People should feel reinvigorated after participating.