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The Equity Collaborative builds culture, tools to promote gender parity

By Susan E.W. Spencer

UMass Medical School Communications

October 22, 2020
Gayle Capozzalo

What makes an organization committed to fully inclusive gender equity? That was the framework for the first in a series of UMass Medical School community conversations on diversity and inclusion, held over Zoom on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

“The goal of the series is to help us as a community identify the concrete actions that we must take in order to achieve the goals set out in the IMPACT 2025 strategic plan of striving toward inclusive excellence, emerging as a leader in health equity and propagating an enhanced social mission,” said Mary Ellen Lane, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, who moderated the discussion.

Guest speaker Gayle Capozzalo, executive director of The Equity Collaborative, discussed the purpose and goals of the collaborative and UMass Medical School’s involvement therein, as well as trends and dynamics impacting gender equity across the academic medicine and health care sectors.

UMMS was a founding member in 2019 of The Equity Collaborative, a program of the Carol Emmott Foundation. Its vision is to create a fully inclusive gender equity culture in each Collaborative member organization and across the health care industry.

Members make a three-year commitment to building trust through candid conversations, establishing metrics to measure progress, sharing and implementing best practices and promoting mutual accountability for results.

The Equity Collaborative initially came together looking at leadership and organizational culture through the lens of gender, but members soon realized that the intersectionality between gender, race and ethnicity was vitally important. So members coined the term, “fully inclusive gender equity,” Capozzalo said, which stands for their concern with getting more women into leadership and ensuring there are opportunities to be inclusive of everyone, particularly women.

Partnering with consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace surveys, The Equity Collaborative reported in 2019 that women, particularly women of color, are still underrepresented in the workplace, and particularly at the highest executive levels. Women make up 48 percent of entry-level employees but just 21 percent of “c-suite” executives.

Overall, women are more likely to be stuck on the “broken rung” between entry-level and managerial positions, Capozzalo said.

She said that in academic medical institutions, 38 percent of faculty are women, but only 21 percent of full professors and 15 percent of department chairs are women. Eighty-five percent of medical school deans are men.

That’s not good for organizations’ success, she said.

Another key finding from the report: Opportunity and fairness are the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction and retention.

Men and women surveyed in the report differed in their perceptions of barriers to gender parity, as well. Men reported the top reason women are underrepresented in leadership are because there were too few qualified women in the pipeline. Women reported that they are judged differently than men. They also cited lack of sponsorship and difficulty getting promoted to their first-level managerial role.

“It is difficult to mobilize the organization when there are different views of the problem,” Capozzalo said.

Capozzalo presented tools to increase gender equity in promotions. These include:

  • eliminate self-evaluation during performance reviews, since women tend to downplay their achievements while men report successes more confidently;
  • make criteria for advancement and performance objective and transparent;
  • provide regular feedback on how people are doing in comparison to their peers;
  • train leaders in unconscious bias at performance review time; and
  • replace annual review process with regular documented conversations between employee and supervisor.

In hiring processes, the word “fit” should be banned, Capozzalo said. Speaking of research conducted on hiring decisions, when selection committees talked about a candidate’s fit, “They were really talking about cultural fit to themselves and their upbringing.”

Work-life integration is also a priority task for The Equity Collaborative’s members this year, heightened by stresses brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s very important to understand that women are leaving the workforce,” Capozzalo said. She cited a recent study showing that more than 865,000 women have left the workforce as of September 2020, compared with 216,000 men, since the start of the pandemic. Some lost their jobs through layoffs. But more than one out of four women were contemplating downsizing or leaving their careers.

Women feel exhausted, burned out and pressured to work more than men, Capozzalo said. The effects are heightened on women of color.

“The data shows us that in companies that have women in their leadership, profits and share performance can be close to 50 percent higher,” Capozzalo said. “We also know that senior women impact inclusion cultures, very often more than senior-level men. They’re more likely to embrace employee-friendly policies. And they’re more likely to create programs and to champion programs of gender and racial diversity. So, we just can’t go backwards.”

Capozzalo called on organizations to foster a culture of empathy, resetting norms around flexibility; checking in on mental health and wellness; showing gratitude; reassessing performance and productivity standards; and making a commitment to implicit bias training and other human resource policies to support employees.

Upcoming community conversations include:

Oct. 22: A Campus Conversation on Health Equity and Eliminating Health Disparities, led by Jeroan Allison, MD, MS, professor and chair of population & quantitative health sciences, and Sharina Person, PhD, professor and vice chair, PQHS.

Oct. 28: A Campus Conversation on Enhancing Student Diversity at UMMS and Improving Diversity within STEM-related Careers, led by Peter Cruz-Gordillo, UMMS student trustee.

Oct. 29: A Campus Conversation on LGBTQ Equity, led by Kenneth Peterson, PhD, FNP-BC, assistant professor of nursing; co-chair, UMMS Committee on Equal Opportunity and Diversity.

Nov. 2: A Campus Conversation on Faculty Diversity, led by Milagros Rosal, PhD, vice provost for health equity and professor of population & quantitative health sciences.

Nov. 5: A Campus Conversation on How to Be an Antiracist, with guest facilitator Michael Hyter, chief diversity officer, Korn Ferry.