The Women in Global Health Research Initiative was started in 2014 at the Center for Global Health at Weill Cornell Medical College when a group of junior faculty in academic global health at Weill Cornell noticed a gender gap in global health leadership. Women’s health is a top global research priority, yet women hold less than 25% of leadership roles in global health research. What is contributing to the attrition of women from this field? What kind of support is needed in order for them to stay? This initiative began by identifying these four main gender-based challenges for women working in global health research. Hover over each to see what we've done to address each challenge.
Drs. Jyoti Mathad and Jennifer Downs discuss why the Women in Global Health Research Initiative was founded and the continued mission of the Initiative.
Health and Safety
Twenty-six percent of women report having experienced unwanted physical contact while doing international field research. Health and safety risks pose a significant obstacle for women working in resource-poor settings. These risks affect the decision to enter into the global health field, family planning decisions, and the decision to expose family and children to these same risks.
The Initiative has implemented an institutional Health and Safety protocol that includes site-specific pre-departure training for all faculty, trainees, and staff planning to conduct international field research. Using this protocol, trainees are given frank advice, an individual safety plan, and access to self-defense classes.
In response, the Initiative created the Community Mentorship Network to connect women across institutions. Network members both seek and provide mentorship on topics such as how to balance international work with a partner whose career requirements are not compatible with overseas travel, or how to lead cross cultural teams.
Mentors in academic medicine play a crucial role in career development. Given the lack of women in leadership positions in global health research, senior female mentors are scarce. While male mentors are qualified to provide advice on research, they may be less equipped to address gender-specific career decisions - many of which are compounded by the nature of global health.
Balancing Career and Social Life
The Initiative provides Research-Enabling Funds to Weill Cornell female faculty to support the extra costs the incur during field work, such as costs for bringing breastfeeding infants along, or supporting a research assistant to continue fieldwork during an investigator's late pregnancy and postpartum period.
Female scientists with doctoral degrees leave science careers much more frequently than male scientists, largely due to difficulties balancing their careers and personal lives. This issue becomes even more pronounced for women in global health due to the need to spend substantial time away from home.
Research Training and Leadership Development
The Initiative provides remotely-accessible research training to women conducting field work in resource-limited settings, including access to Grand Rounds, Advanced Topics seminars, and other short courses. The Initiative also holds Leadership Development Workshops that cover topics such as contract negotiation, conflict management, public speaking, and more. These workshops are held at WCMC and at our international sites.
Research training and leadership development are essential for building careers in any academic field. Such training is often inaccessible to women spending extended time in resource-poor settings for their field research. Commonly they must choose between field research and obtaining formal research/leadership training.