Building Strategy for a Future of Diversity and Gender Equity at UCSF

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Highlight. Connect. Support. This is the mantra for a group of female graduate students who are tackling issues of diversity and gender equity at UCSF.

ImmunoXX+ hosts a series of events throughout the year designed to highlight scientific achievements of women immunologists, connect female trainees with mentors at various career stages, and support their success in the progression from trainee to leadership.

A key challenge in defeating gender inequity in science is recognizing where the barriers are for women, and how to find resources to overcome them.

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, ImmunoXX+ spearheaded a strategy session featuring a panel discussion with female leaders in the UCSF community.

The goal was to brainstorm the ways that ImmunoXX+ can provide resources, support, and awareness to issues of gender equity in ways that compliment the current university wide and departmental programs.

To develop a strategy for women’s success, Dr. Lisa Butterfield opened the panel discussion with examples of how she has supported women in science at other institutions.

Butterfield was the founding member of Pittsburgh's Women’s Task Force, which tackled issues of salary inequity, and lack of women representation in speaker invitations, grant recipients, and faculty.

She pointed out that certain verbiage in application invitations bias whether men or women will apply.

The task force relies heavily on formalized data collection to drive change.

How many women are at each level of leadership? Why are they not succeeding equally with men? Where are the resource gaps?

This women’s task force was a faculty-initiated program. Hopefully their example can inspire faculty here at UCSF, including men and women, to model these efforts.

Currently the first President of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC), Butterfield also spoke about the challenge of perceived power.

When a man ran against a woman for this position, which requires a leader viewed as strong, the man always won. It required running two female candidates to induce change.

Dr. Tiffany Scharschmidt is a member of the Baker ImmunoX leadership and updated the community on how this administration is striving for diversity and gender equity in science.

It begins with the leadership team itself, which was intentionally designed with a range of new and senior faculty, and seven women to eight men.

The Baker ImmunoX Initiative promotes collaborative science amongst immunologists by facilitating the sharing of resources, technologies and findings. The student run group, ImmunoXX+, is funded in part by ImmunoX as well as outside industry partners.

ImmunoX is tackling diversity and gender equity is several ways.

The Women in Science Career Life Balance initiative provides funding for a full-time technician to support female graduate students and postdocs during the first year of childbirth. They have also allocated funding to support the diversification of clinical samples for research projects.

As a member of the committee for Society in Dermatology, Scharschmidt described efforts to create a formalized database for women speakers. This recourse facilitates more gender equal speaker invitations by maintaining an extensive list of options outside of “‘who you know.”’

A speaker database would be a fantastic contribution to ImmunoX, which also runs the Immunology graduate program and hosts weekly invited speaker seminars.

Scharschmidt discussed the importance of networking events that allow space for casual conversations between scientists at different career stages to break down perceived obstacles.

Research and academia is usually viewed as more difficult than private practice for those seeking to balance both career and family. But there are growing resources that make academia a viable option.

Finally, we heard from Dr. D’Anne Duncan, the Graduate Division’s Director of Diversity and Outreach.

While there is currently no official university policy for diverse student recruitment, there are efforts by student-led groups like SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, to assist underrepresented groups in the graduate application process.

At the faculty level, new applicants are now required to submit a diversity statement.

Programs supporting under-represented minorities at the graduate and postdoc level include the Path to Postdoc program, launched in 2018 by the UCSF IRACDA Scholars program to support travel and lodging for position interviews at UCSF. Students from underrepresented backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.

The Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program has been active for over 20 years to support the success of underrepresented minority graduate students during their first two years.

Duncan stressed the importance of bringing your most authentic self to work. To do so, you must feel valued, heard and welcomed.

She challenged the audience with the concept of scientific identity versus personal identity. What factors contribute to the misalignment between the two?

IMSD is one program in place to navigate these challenges and to provide support during the process.

How can we all help build a scientific community where every member can succeed as their full selves?

She left the community with the advice to be intentional every day.

If someone is missing from a space, ask why.

Invite those that are missing to the table.

Partner and act.

Audience members raised the issue of poor participation of core ImmunoX leadership at ImmunoXX+ events.

Those of us who regularly attend Immunology seminars and journal clubs recognize the impressively consistent attendance of senior Immunology faculty usually stationed in the unofficial PI zone, rows 1 to 3. The same commitment cannot be said for ImmunoXX+ events.

The audience did include Dean Elizabeth Watkins, ever supportive of graduate student initiatives, and Dr. Tony Defranco who gave great feedback on expanding networking and mentorship opportunities through alumni via UCSF connect.

How can we encourage more buy-in and support from faculty?

One idea raised was intention in event timing. Typically happy hours or discussions are held after 5 p.m., which is challenging for those with families.

The goal moving forward will be to include more events during the workday, including faculty luncheons with mentees, and potentially including brief updates during the well-attended morning Immunology seminars.

We must also rely on faculty members who do show up to ask why their peers are missing, and to invite them to the table.

The strategy meeting was closed with a final question to inspire creativity regardless of perceived obstacles: if funding/feasibility wasn’t an issue, what would be the one thing you would implement?

Butterfied said she would create a Women’s Leadership Institute at UCSF, a program currently run by SITC, which involves a day-long workshop that teaches various interpersonal and leadership skills.

Tuesday’s brainstorming session follows on the heels of a successful second annual Women in Immunology Symposium, held in October by ImmunoXX+, which embodied all three of the groups initiatives.

ImmunoXX+ highlighted the incredible work of women scientists at UCSF by showcasing all women speakers, including graduate students, postdocs, and faculty.

Connections were made between faculty and trainees through a mentoring luncheon, and amongst the broader community during an evening industry networking social.

Both of these events provided structured opportunities for female trainees to seek out support from people in positions of power and experience.

Open to the UCSF, Stanford, and Berkeley communities, Cole Hall was filled for the day-long symposium. The overwhelming success demonstrates a willingness of the community to participate in eradicating issues of gender inequity.

We have the interest and momentum, we need only to provide the structure in which change can manifest.

What changes would you like to see implemented at UCSF on gender equity? Let us know at

You can also join the effort by following this group on twitter @ImmunoXXplus.