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Internal Documents Raised Long-Standing Concerns About Gender Bias At Salk Institute

File photo shows The Salk Institute, above the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, Oc...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: File photo shows The Salk Institute, above the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, Oct. 3, 2013 .

Internal Documents Raised Long-Standing Concerns About Gender Bias At Salk Institute

GUEST:

Patricia Perez, vice president of workplace strategy, Emtrain

Transcript

Leaked documents reveal that concerns were raised internally long before three female professors filed gender discrimination lawsuits against the La Jolla research institute.

Leaders of the Salk Institute were told last year that they had a long-standing problem with gender bias on their hands.

Newly leaked documents — obtained and published Wednesday by Science magazine — reveal that concerns were raised internally long before three female professors filed gender discrimination lawsuits against the La Jolla research institute.

According to a 2016 internal report, Salk leaders in recent years have hired 3.75 men for every one woman they brought on to the faculty. The report found that 16 percent of full professors at Salk were women. Another internal report from 2003 found that back then, 15.6 percent of professors or distinguished professors were women.

"The numbers aren't improving," said Katherine Jones, one of the Salk professors now suing the institute. "We can't show, over decades, any improvement."

Salk officials note that today, 32 percent of the institute's assistant and associate professors are women, an improvement on the gender ratio found among junior faculty in the 2003 report.

Beverly Emerson — another plaintiff — chaired the committee that prepared the 2016 report, which also found a "gender-specific skew in lab size" and a bias in "the timeline for awarding endowed chairs to full professors."

The report also said that compared to their male peers, senior women faculty members raised more than double the amount of federal funding from the National Institutes of Health per each of their lab members.

Allegations in the lawsuits brought forward by Emerson, Jones and Vicki Lundblad depict Salk as a place where men get more access to funding from private donations, while female-run labs have to scrape by with smaller staffs and less institutional support.

Salk officials emailed KPBS a statement saying these documents were drafts prepared in large part by professors now suing the institute.

"Two of the now-plaintiffs chaired committee subgroups, and they produced draft documents containing opinions and self-titled 'findings,' many of which are misguided or we disagree with or dispute," the statement reads.

Officials wrote, "Salk's focus on diversity and inclusion has been ongoing and remains a priority today." They said they have expanded outreach for recruiting women scientists, and have created a new position tasked with "ensuring transparency, fairness, and equity in faculty recruitment and retention."

The 2016 internal report outlined a number of recommendations for tackling gender disparities. But Jones told KPBS that from her perspective, Salk leaders have not seriously tried to implement those recommendations.

"It's a pervasive problem that, from the inside, as you see it, you see it at every different level," Jones said.

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