Chapter 04: Taking on Gender Inequity at MD Anderson; Establishing the Organization for Women

Title

Chapter 04: Taking on Gender Inequity at MD Anderson; Establishing the Organization for Women

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Description

Founding, purpose, institutional support of Women Faculty Organization

Identifier

KripkeM_01_20071213_C04

Publication Date

12-13-2017

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library, The University of Texas Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion; Evolution of Career; Personal Background; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Leadership; On Leadership; Obstacles, Challenges; Controversies; Experiences of Injustice, Bias; Women and Minorities at Work

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Lesley W. Brunet

Before we get to that, when you -- I want to talk about the women's faculty organization, and how that got started.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Dr. LeMaistre asked me to chair a committee on the status of minorities in the institution, and I suppose this came from an initiative I think, from the board of regents members who had some concerns about that issue. I agreed to chair the committee, and I enlisted the help of Judy Watson, Judy [Johns?

at the time.

Lesley W. Brunet

What year would this have been? Eighty…

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Oh gosh. (inaudible). And after talking with Judy, we decided that we should go back to the president and perhaps see if we could convince him to include women as a minority.

Lesley W. Brunet

Oh, so it was just minorities. I don't suppose you know who on the board was interested in that?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

No.

Lesley W. Brunet

You would think so, by 1990.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

I actually don't know whether that was the allegation or not. I always thought it was, but I don't really know that. But in any case, I agreed to chair the committee. Committee members were selected by the president, and I had really never done anything like that before, nothing really at the institutional level. But I said yes. I thought it was -- I was interested in doing it, and so there were two parts of the study. One was faculty and the other was staff and -- administration and staff. And so I had -- probably had a co-chair who was from the administrative side, and there were a lot of very good people in the institution, both administrative and faculty. And so we did our study and did data analyses, and what was really essential was that we were given completely open access to all the data. And so we were able to -- and on the faculty side -- my interest was on the faculty side, and on the faculty side, there were so few minorities that it wasn't hardly worth talking about, because there just weren't any, there were so few at the time. And so we spent a lot of time analyzing the status of women faculty in the institution. We were able to look at salary information, years before promotion, the leadership positions, endowed positions, honors and awards, all of those kinds of things. And so the report got written and it pointed out that we don't have enough minorities or women in positions of leadership in the institution. There were some inequities in salary, particularly for women on the clinical side. It was clear that there were very few women. There were so few women in those days who actually were professors.

Lesley W. Brunet

And there were -- there had been some here for a long time.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Yes, yes, but there were not very many of them. There was very -- vanishing, the few women in positions, were not really appointed to committees very regularly. So we wrote our report and turned it in, and there was an executive summary of it that was distributed to the faculty. And about a week later, I got a telephone call from Lillian Fuller and Lillian said, “Well, I saw your report, it was very nice.” I said, “Thank you very much,” and she said, "And so what are you going to do about it?" I said, “Lillian, I'm not going to do anything about it, you know I'm finished. My job was to do a report, so we did a report.” She said, “But it's just going to collect dust on somebody's shelf, you've got to do something about this.” And I said, “Well Lillian, why don't we have lunch and talk about this?”

Lesley W. Brunet

Was she a full professor by then?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Mm hmm.

Lesley W. Brunet

Oh she was. Because I got the feeling, she was --

Margaret Kripke, PhD

She was close to retirement actually.

Lesley W. Brunet

But I got the feeling she encountered some resistance.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Oh yes, oh yes. And she was still miffed about that.

Lesley W. Brunet

She's still miffed about it I think. I actually still talk to her.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

You know, Lillian did not have an easy time at MD Anderson.

Lesley W. Brunet

Well, any medical center.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Well, it's a very male-dominated institution. I'm sure it's different (inaudible). It's southern and it’s medical and it's very conservative. I believe I was the first female chair of any of the academic departments. There was a female head of nursing, but there were no department heads, women heads to be found.

Lesley W. Brunet

Do you think the southern part really played a factor?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Yeah, yeah I do. It's a difficult thing to --

Lesley W. Brunet

Good old boys. I thought that was in New York too. I thought it was all over.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

It's a different -- it had a different flavor in those days.

Lesley W. Brunet

Can you give me an example?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Men are more paternalistic. I mean Dr. LeMaistre, whom I adore and who doesn't have a malicious bone in his body, was always very solicitous. He didn't want me to walk to my car alone after an event. I always had to find somebody to walk me to my car, you know very, very solicitous. And in some cases it's fine and in some cases it's patronizing. That's not a northeastern thing and that's not a California thing.

Lesley W. Brunet

That they're, that they're --

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Over-solicitous and patronizing. It's patronizing in the, in the -- under the guise of southern gentile.

Lesley W. Brunet

I would agree with you there.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

OK yeah, that's what I meant. It could be patronizing anywhere in the country but it's not under the guise of southern gentile. So anyway, I said, “Well, let's do lunch and we'll get some people together.” So I got Judy Watson and Lillian and Liz Travis [oral history interview

. Liz and I were the administrators. I don't remember who else. Margaret Spitz [oral history interview

may have been present by that time. And we sat around and Lillian said, “You know, you really need to do something for women. We need to organize something to support women in the institution, and why don't you do that?” I wouldn't commit, and I thought about that very hard. I have never been an activist, a gender activist. I have never been a joiner, I had never joined women's groups. I had grown up in an era where the best thing you could do is pretend that you know, you're not different, and so not drawing attention to myself as a woman was really part of my (inaudible). And so I really didn't want to do that and I thought, “You know, what if the president and my boss and everybody think this is not the right thing for me to do. They could fire me for this. I'm not going to organize the women and make enemies across the institution.” And then I thought about for -- I thought about it for a while and it finally dawned on me. I had a huge revelation that short of committing a felony, they wouldn't fire me from my research, because I was absolutely untouchable there. I was a full professor with tenure.

Lesley W. Brunet

I was going to say, highly regarded.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

The only woman department chair they had. Between my husband and I, we owned --

Lesley W. Brunet

The whole building?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Probably a quarter -- no, a quarter of the basic science in the institution, so if I left he left. And I thought, I can do anything I want to and I'm in a position to do something.

Lesley W. Brunet

That must be a wonderful feeling.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

It was incredibly liberating and I feel so stupid, you know I should have figured it out a long time ago. But it took that moment of really thinking about “what could I risk in doing something like that,” and the answer was, I wasn't risking anything. You know as long as I didn't make a fool of myself or embarrass the institution, what could possibly happen?

Lesley W. Brunet

Can I ask you a question?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Yeah.

Lesley W. Brunet

How old were you when you --

Margaret Kripke, PhD

I would have to figure out what year that study was done. I actually do have a copy of the report. Do you have a copy?

Lesley W. Brunet

Well, I have the WFAO record.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

It may be in that.

Lesley W. Brunet

Well I know it was in there.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Yeah, it is in there.

Lesley W. Brunet

I'm thinking '91.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Yeah, it's something like that. So in '91, I was 50-something, 48, 47. I was 48.

Lesley W. Brunet

OK. I wonder if it was that 50 thing.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

It didn't have any -- it really was a result of Lillian made me actually. (laughs) I actually came here as a department chairman just before my 40th birthday.

Lesley W. Brunet

That's pretty good.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

I thought that was pretty good, although I think Doris Nicholson was younger. I don't think I was the youngest but I was relatively young.

Lesley W. Brunet

That is young and successful.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

So, out of that discussion came the women's faculty organization, and we organized and we got a lot of women faculty, and we did a needs assessment. What is it that you would like to have that you don’t have? What are the issues that are of concern to you? I think Ellen Gritz [oral history interview

was part of it too, because she helped design the survey…the behavioral scientist. And Margaret Spitz was also very much involved in that. And so we did our little needs assessment and figured out what the issues were that people were concerned about. Interestingly, it wasn't childcare at the time. It was not childcare. People were interested in promotion, not being in the network, isolation, salary.

Lesley W. Brunet

Salary.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

There is still a pervasive impression among women in the institution that they were underpaid relative to… You know, I don't think there's a lot of objective evidence for that. In fact, Steve Tomasovic [oral history interview

has spent a lot of time analyzing that, and so there doesn't seem to be any systematic bias against women in salaries. But the women are always coming forward with examples of how my qualifications are just the same as so and so's, and they're making more than I am, or I held that job, when I held that job, I was paid at -- somebody brought in somebody else and paid him…

Lesley W. Brunet

That happens even if it was a woman. No matter -- whoever replaces you always gets more money. That's why you have to go somewhere else.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Right. So we set out to address a lot of those issues, and we had full support from the faculty and we had lots of support from the administration. We did a salary analysis, we looked at salary equity. We got the promotion and tenure committee to extend the tenure clock for women who were pregnant. It wasn't actually for women specifically. It was for people with medical issues. So if you had a serious operation or something, you could get your tenure extended. That's been in place since the early 90s. So we did make some progress. We insisted that there be women put on all the important committees. We lobbied for women being given endowed positions. I think we did the easy stuff, but not much of substance has changed since that time, because then you run into the issue that not having a lot of women in leadership positions was a cultural issue. It's not about systematic bias, it's not about overt discrimination. It's much more subtle and much more cultural and ingrained and therefore, much more difficult to deal with.

Lesley W. Brunet

Now it's cultural in the sense of MD Anderson or in medicine, academic medicine?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

MD Anderson and not in academic medicine, which is true in academic medicine across the country and in other countries as well. There's a story that is told very often, of a symphony orchestra that decided that they would do their interviewing behind a screen, and over the last 20 years have increased the number of women performers by far. So when you can't see who's performing, you're only listening to the music. You take the gender issue out of the equation, all of a sudden women are hired into symphony orchestras. So there are completely unconscious biases. It's what Virginia Valian has called gender schemas, where your expectations of women are different than your expectations of men.

Lesley W. Brunet

I agree with that.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

So that's what -- so one of the things, since I had really been a champion for women faculty members and for trying to recruit more senior women into the institution, one of the things that troubled me greatly when I talked about retirement was who is going to carry this charge forward, because it was clear that there wouldn't be another women in the executive suite. And so that's why I created the position for (inaudible). So that there would be some institutionalizing of the mission to promote successive women in the institution.

Lesley W. Brunet

Does she run risk by being in this position, I mean for her career? Do you know what I mean?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Not at this stage of her career, because she is within probably five years of retiring, and she's a full professor and she has an endowed position.

Lesley W. Brunet

So she's in a good position to do that.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

And she's making an academic career out of this position. She's writing things and publishing things about women in academia, and becoming very -- raising her own visibility in that community, rather than inside. She still runs a laboratory and is active scientifically, but this is a career move for her. If she were an assistant or an associate professor I would say yes, because there was a study done a number of years ago. I think it was actually in a book called -- it's one of the career mailers for women in the business world, who was to be labeled going (inaudible).

Lesley W. Brunet

Yes.

END OF AUDIO FILE 01

Lesley W. Brunet

So have the goals of the organization, although it's changed, WFO, WFAO. Now it's OFW, Organization For Women?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Organization For Women. It changed character dramatically when it became an organization for women and administrators, and then it was open to all of the women in the institution. I have not been active in that since the original change occurred, because it completely changed the character of the organization. Not that it was a bad change, but it wasn't -- you know, my focus is really women faculty, and what happens when you have women administrators is that the administrators far outnumber the faculty participants, and the issues that they have to address and the issues that they face are quite different.

Lesley W. Brunet

In what way?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

The women faculty are at the beck and call of their department chairs. They answer to department chairs, their career success is totally dependent on their department chairs, all of them, pretty much all of them. They have to get promoted on a regular schedule, they need to get tenure in the institution. So the demands on them are -- the demands on doctors in general are quite different from administrators. So my feeling is that the organization was not -- was no longer really serving the needs. I mean it was good for women in the institution, but it was not focused on what my group was.

Lesley W. Brunet

So are the women faculty not really in it? Are any of them involved with the Organization For Women?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

I think there are a few. I do think there are a few, but it has a much broader agenda.

Lesley W. Brunet

And so really, Dr. Travis is more of the center of the faculty group.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Yes.

Lesley W. Brunet

Will it help if we have a woman president or not? I'm not sure.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Will it help women in the institution? It makes a statement to the outside world that this is a women friendly institution.

Lesley W. Brunet

Oh, I mean if we have a woman -- country.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Oh, President of the United States.

Lesley W. Brunet

Yes, president of the country. Oh sure, if we had a woman president.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

No, I don't think so. No. Academia (inaudible) Senator Clinton.

Lesley W. Brunet

That's why the battles are so ugly, or something like that.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

It's because the stakes are so low. (laughs)

Lesley W. Brunet

I don't agree with that here. Maybe at U of H.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Yes, at the university level.

Lesley W. Brunet

I know you had another appointment at 3:30. Thanks for taking the time today. You've really --

Margaret Kripke, PhD

I'll be happy to continue if you would like to do that. You can look at what I've written and see if there are some other questions that you have. And I'll think about what kinds of things you wanted some help with.

Lesley W. Brunet

OK. Or suggestions of people I should interview. Obviously there's Travis at the Swan, (inaudible). I've interviewed some of the women faculty.

Margaret Kripke, PhD

Jan Bruner [oral history interview

has been the longest (overlapping dialogue) of the current leadership.

Lesley W. Brunet

Did she ever work with Baylor?

Margaret Kripke, PhD

I don't know.

Lesley W. Brunet

I'll go ahead and stop this now.

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Chapter 04: Taking on Gender Inequity at MD Anderson; Establishing the Organization for Women

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