Creating Women’s Organizations and Fighting Gender Inequality

Title

Creating Women’s Organizations and Fighting Gender Inequality

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Identifier

KripkeM_02_20120329-Final_Clip05

Publication Date

3-29-2012

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

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.

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

I wanted to shift gears if you’re willing at this point to talk about the women faculty organization, which I know when you spoke with Leslie Brunet you covered your activity on the committee to evaluate the status of minority and women faculty and administrators in 1989, and that activity resulted in the organization for women. But you started to speak with her about how there really is no—what that organization developed into didn’t serve the needs specifically of women faculty, and so I wanted to know what were the specific needs? What made women faculty different? What were they confronting, and then what the process was of establishing the women faculty organization.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Let me begin at the beginning. After we presented the report to the president about the status of women and minorities in the institution I assumed—I was chairman of immunology at the time, and I figured my job was done, and I got a telephone call from one of the senior women clinical faculty members, and she said, “Okay, I read your report. What are you going to do about it?” And I said, “Nothing. I’m done. My job was to write the report.” And she said, “You know it’s just going to sit on a shelf unless you do something,” and so I said, “Okay, well, let’s have lunch. I’ll get some people together and have lunch.” We had lunch, and we included Dr. LeMaistre’s chief of staff, who was probably the highest ranking female person in the institution.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And her name is?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Judy Johns, and she remarried in the middle of sometime in the—so it was Judy Watson.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And the person who called you? The person who called you and said “What are you going to do about this?” Who was that?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Lillian Fuller. And so we met, and I got Liz Travis involved in this conversation, and we had a nice lunch, and Lillian said, “You need to do something.” I mean, there were a lot of things that were identified in the report. For example, salaries, particularly in the clinical arena, those of women lagged behind those of men pretty seriously, and there were very few women full professors. There were practically—hardly any women who headed important committees or who had endowed positions and so on, so if you looked at the leadership strata and who was recognized within the institution women were really sort of not there, not more represented. Let’s put it that way. And so Lillian really nagged us to try to—well, you need to take this on and do something about it, and I went away from that meeting saying “This is not what I do. I’m chairman of immunology. I’ve got my own issues. I have a day job here, and it’s not the kind of thing that I have ever done anything about.” The philosophy in my day was you pretend that you’re no different than anybody else, and you don’t draw attention to the fact that you are a female in the context of men, and so I was not at all an activist on behalf of women at that point. And the more I thought about it, I again had one of these revelations that there was no reason why I shouldn’t do it, and I thought, “Well, what if the president doesn’t like it? Am I going to get into trouble, and who is going to think this is an important activity for me to spend time on?” And then when I thought about it I was one of the few full professors. I had an endowed position. I was one of the few endowed position holders. I was the only female department head in the institution. I was married to someone who was also a research department chair, and between the two of us we owned about a third or a half of research in the institution, and so the light bulb was that I can do this because short of committing a felony they can’t fire me. No one is going to—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D It’s really interesting to hear you tell that story because I think in the reading that I’ve done—literature from a feminist perspective and speaking with women who are feminists—it takes women sometimes—there’s a lag time for them to realize “Oh, my God. I actually have power.” And it was interesting that it took that much for it to dawn on you that you had power.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

You know, when I tell this story now to women they look at me in disbelief. “You did not know that you had any power in the institution?” No, it really had not occurred to me that I was in such a position of strength that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted as long as I was doing my job, the job that I was being paid to do. The other thought was that if people like myself and Liz Travis, who was a full professor, and Lillian Fuller, who was a full professor, if people like us don’t do these kinds of things it has no credibility because the people who were on the bottom end of the rung can’t advocate for themselves because it’s too self-serving, and so people who are not trying to make tenure and trying to get an endowed position in the institution, those are the people who need to fight this battle because they have more standing and more stature than people who don’t. I got together a group of people.

The kind of early participants were people like Margaret Spitz who then came—she was, I think, probably the second female department head in research at the institution, and Ellen Gritz was another one who came a few years later, and so we got together, and the first thing we did was to call a meeting of the faculty members, and the beauty of including Judy Watson in all of this was that she negotiated all of this with the president and made sure that it was okay and provided some resources for us to do these things, so that was very helpful. We did first of all a needs assessment of what is it that women faculty would like to see? What do they need? What do they want? And the big issues are, of course, child assistance and equitable salaries, appointments to important positions, and it was kind of the spectrum of things that you would imagine, and so we went to work on those issues. And then somehow the group evolved so that people wanted women in administration to be included in that, and it came to the point of being very deluded, and so it evolved into an organization of women administrators rather than women faculty, and that’s partly a cultural thing. Women in administration would come to the meetings. They were participatory. Women faculty have too many responsibilities. To get them to come to a meeting is like pulling teeth, and so it simply evolved in that direction, and so I did not think that that group was actually meeting the needs of women faculty, and they are very different than the needs of women in administration. When you are trying to juggle clinic schedules and you are the one who always gets called on to meet with the difficult patients or to fill in when somebody doesn’t show up—and those are kind of the things that are in fact relegated to women—that does not further your career, and if you want to have an opportunity to do research it’s extremely difficult, but if you are a female it’s even more difficult, I think. There are very specific issues about women faculty—I mean, just writing grants, getting papers published and so on—that have no relevance for women administrators. There are certain similarities. They want equitable salaries and opportunities for promotion, but the day-to-day responsibilities and the places where people live are extremely different if you’re faculty versus administration.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

How did the steering committee for the women faculty organization go about establishing a conversation about how to resolve some of these issues, identify them as often—you said there was the—did you do kind of a second wave of a needs assessment or kind of get it on paper so that it could be shown around?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, part of the report—the report had all the data, and I should say that to the institution’s credit we had access to all the data. Nothing was kept from us. We got to look at salaries. We got to look at numbers. We really had access to the data, and I think in any kind of an institutional organization if you don’t have access to the data there’s not much you can do, and so I credit the institution in that regard that we were given real access to information that we needed.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And who were the individuals that enabled that to happen?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Dr. LeMaistre, number one, and I think David Bachrach, who was the vice president. I think he might have been executive vice president for finance. He was a finance guy, a very enlightened guy. I know that we made changes as a result of this. There was a—I actually chaired the Promotion and Tenure Committee for a while, so it was possible to rewrite the bylaws to enable men and women to take time off for medical reasons, including pregnancy or elder care or something like that, to stop the tenure clock and then have it resume. There were things like that that were done. We had some salary review. We got some salary reviews instituted in areas that we thought were problematical and then when I became part of the—crossed over to the dark side and became part of the administration we instituted an annual salary review for women and minorities within the institution to make sure that someone was looking at those issues annually as salaries were adjusted. How did we do it? I don’t know.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

How long did it take for the women faculty organization to actually become a formal body? And then from that came women faculty programs, and I’m just kind of wondering how that took shape.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, as soon as we convened women and did a needs assessment we had a women faculty organization, and so it had different leaders over time. I didn’t lead it, and as different leaders came into that role some were more amenable to the idea of including administrators, and so then there would be an administrator and a faculty leader alternating as leaders, and so that survived for a while. I don’t know that it still exists even. I don’t know what happened to it. I really lost track of it, partly because I lost interest in it because it wasn’t specifically dealing with issues of women faculty. And then I think while I was in my administrative role I was very interested in continuing to further this agenda of trying to have women promoted into positions of more responsibility, making sure that women were considered for awards and endowed positions and heads of search committees and those kinds of things, and I still had a group of women leaders who were, say, advisors or helpers in those issues, and we continued to meet on an informal basis. But the difficulty was that all of us had a day job. There wasn’t anybody whose major business it was to watch over those issues and so that was—when I decided to retire it was clear to me that once I walked out of the position that would probably just go away, and so to try to institutionalize that I created the position of associate vice president for women faculty programs, whatever it’s called, and so that was really an attempt to provide someone whose business it was to make sure that women had increased visibility, that they were considered during recruitment activities, and also to try to change the image of MD Anderson to one that says we are women friendly, and we have activities for women faculty, and we are interested in furthering their careers here, and I think Dr. Travis has done exactly that. She’s done a very excellent job of that. The Legends and Legacies book is one of those things. I think Liz has done very well in terms of perpetuating this. Now, whether they will appoint someone to replace her as she moves on or retires or whatever is really up to the new president.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And is there a perception that—one of the difficulties in the population at large is that feminism is the F word, and it’s already been taken care of. Parity has been achieved. Is there that kind of sense within the culture of MD Anderson or—?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Oh, sure. I don’t know whether you know about Nancy Hopkins being at MD Anderson last week.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

No.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Okay. One of the things that Dr. Travis did was to establish the Kripke Legend Award.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

I was going to ask you about that.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

And so last week the recipient of that award was a woman named Nancy Hopkins, who is a professor at MIT, and she is very famous because she got up and walked out on the speech of Larry Summers, who was the president of Harvard, when he made some comment about that he really didn’t think that women had the same type of mental capability in science and math as men did, something of that kind.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And that was in 18 what? (laughs)

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yes, right, so that made all the newspapers. Well, Nancy had been famous before that because she looked around at MIT, and there were so few women. There were just very few women, and she kind of couldn’t get resources to increase her scientific activities. Even though she could get grant money, she didn’t have enough space to do the work, so she started looking around to see how much space did I have? How much space did other women have? How are other women being treated at MIT? And to her astonishment she found that all of the women—that senior women, all ten of them or six of them or whatever it was—felt totally marginalized from the institution. They all believed that the accomplishments of men were recognized more than equally earned accomplishments of women in science, and so she wrote a report, and the president of MIT said, “We are going to fix this” and went out and actively recruited women into the institution, so she gave a wonderful lecture here about how if you don’t do anything, nothing changes, and she showed the number of women faculty at MIT from 1960 to now, and there’s a blip in the beginning when she was hired—affirmative action. It was the civil rights movement. And then nothing happened. Women came and went, but it was a steady state in terms of numbers of women until her report came out, and then the president of MIT made another impressive incremental jump, and then in recent years they’ve established an office of women’s activities, and they are doing specific outreach and a lot of the kinds of things that Dr. Travis is doing, and again, it went up another notch. But her point is that if you don’t do anything, it doesn’t fix itself. Time does not solve this problem, even when the pipeline is full, and so I think it is widely perceived that as soon as you get enough women in the pipeline, all of this is going to change. It’s not really correct. It was very interesting—to me at least. An interesting message that I hope people were paying attention to.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Well, I think just as individuals we live in a culture that keeps telling us that everything has been fixed, and we just need to kind of get on with it and forget about this discussion. It’s over, done with and it’s—

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

To me what was so powerful about Nancy’s presentation is that she is a first-rate scientist. She’s a member of the National Academy of Sciences. She presents this information in a totally unemotional, rational, data-driven manner, which is much easier for people to digest than something that comes as an in your face kind of feminist activity, so I think feminists have kind of a bad name because people immediately have a vision of somebody who is very emotional and not very rational about things. I think her message is extremely important because it speaks to the audience that she’s dealing with.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Absolutely, absolutely. I’m curious about whether your process of coming to the realization that you had way more power than needed to go ahead and take on this kind of activity at that time and then going through and talking with other women with similar concerns and deciding to advocate for women, junior women who really needed somebody to pave the way. I was wondering if that experience, even though you’ve decided to back away and continue with a different track into administration, if nonetheless that brush with that activism changed your sense of yourself as a leader or felt it gave you a different sense of your leadership skills, if it had any effect.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

It did have an effect. It had an effect on realizing—I really started thinking about power and sources of power, and I did some reading on the subject and so on, and so I actually have given a number of lectures over the years about women and power because women are typically uncomfortable with power. They don’t want to be powerful. They don’t want to use what power they have, and it is to their disadvantage in a professional setting, and so I realized that I had a lot more power than I was actually using. Just power of my position in the institution meant that I could pick up the phone and call somebody or other or get things done that other people couldn’t do, and I was not making use of that, and so it really did change my outlook to some degree.

Creating Women’s Organizations and Fighting Gender Inequality

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