Biomedical Engineering Society Written Testimony
Gilda Barabino, Ph.D., President Elect
The Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) was founded in 1968 “to encourage the development, dissemination, integration and utilization of knowledge in biomedical engineering (BME).” Its vision is to serve as the world's leading society of professionals devoted to developing and using engineering and technology to advance human health and well-being. BMES recognizes that diversity promotes a healthy society and is a driver of innovation, excellence and new discoveries. The field has experienced rapid changes related to technologies, complex global challenges, and shifting demographics and—as reported by the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) —has sustained the largest growth of any engineering discipline at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. While the field has attracted a significant portion of women at the undergraduate and graduate levels (37 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 38.6 percent of Ph.D.s in biomedical engineering were awarded to women in 2010), the numbers of women diminish sharply at the faculty level, and the numbers of women of color are alarmingly low at all levels; at the faculty level, women of color are virtually invisible. To enhance the career advancement of women of color and broaden the participation of all underrepresented groups, BMES strives to intentionally infuse diversity throughout the organization and its programs and activities and to seek equally committed partners and collaborators to promote the diversification of the field.
BMES President-Elect Dr. Gilda Barabino, one of the few African American women in the field, is the first underrepresented minority and the second woman to lead the Society. When she first joined BMES in the early 1990’s, there were no other African American female members and there was no specific programming targeted toward diversification. She began serving the Society as a member of the Membership Committee, was elected to the Board of Directors in 1997 for a 3-year term, was elected as Treasurer in 2005 and again in 2007, initiated the formation of the Diversity Committee in 2007 and from 2010- 2011 served as the Finance Committee Chair. Her trajectory in the Society and record of service and leadership speaks to the need for and benefit of active engagement of women of color and others from various backgrounds. Service to a professional society provides opportunities for networking, advocacy, professional mentoring, and recognition. In 2010, Dr. Barabino was elected as a Fellow in BMES and received the Diversity Award, which was accompanied by a plenary at the annual meeting. The BMES Diversity Award honors an individual, project, organization, or institution for outstanding contributions to improving diversity in biomedical engineering community. In awarding it to Dr. Barabino, BMES played a role that professional societies can model for others in recognizing the achievements of women of color and promoting their career advancement. For broader impact, it is important that scientific achievements be recognized as well.
Strong and inclusive leadership and an infusion of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the society and its activities are essential for professional societies to contribute to the
advancement of women of color. Current BMES leadership headed by the Executive Committee (President and other officers) and the Board of Directors is diverse in its membership and fully committed to diversity and inclusion. Of the 6-member Executive Committee, two are women and one, the President Elect, is African American. Of the 12 elected directors on the Board of Directors, 7 are women. Through its strategic planning process, BMES established specific diversity goals and objectives, namely to promote lifelong high quality education and career advancement of a diverse community of biomedical engineers. One avenue toward meeting these goals is to increase participation of women and underrepresented minorities. To that end, luncheons and professional development workshops celebrating women and minorities are now offered routinely at annual meetings, winners of the Diversity Award are invited to serve on the Diversity Committee for a 3-year term, travel awards have been established for underrepresented minorities, in partnership with the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), a mentoring program for women and underrepresented minorities is under development, in partnership with the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, an educational program on translational research will be offered to faculty with special encouragement to women and minorities to participate, and BMES has recently hired an Education Director to oversee development and implementation of education and outreach activities and programming.
The power of individual and organizational commitment and of the presence of strong women of color as role models is illustrated by an interchange between Dr. Barabino and a student at the 2010 BMES annual meeting after Dr. Barabino delivered her Diversity Award plenary lecture. During the Q&A, a female African American BME graduate student stood up to say that she was moved by the lecture on a number of levels; in all of her years of schooling she had never had an African American female professor and had never heard a lecture by one. She was able to relate to shared experiences and most importantly, she was inspired with a sense that she could make it, too, by having a role model who shared her heritage and gender. Dr. Barabino was moved by the experience as well and has remained in touch with the student as a mentor and career advisor. She invited the student to attend a sickle cell disease symposium at Georgia Tech that she organized a month after the BMES annual meeting. That symposium gave the student an opportunity for mentoring, networking, socialization into the discipline and expansion of her scientific knowledge; during their regular e-mail correspondence, the student reported to Dr. Barabino that she is excelling in her research and becoming active in organizing student activities for professional development, mimicking her role model and mentor. Though this interchange described here is anecdotal, the role modeling and mentoring that occurred has been noted in the literature as key factors that promote the career success of women of color.
Historically, women faculty of color have experienced barriers to participation in the academy, and not until the Civil Rights Movement did their foray into the academy begin to increase. To date the numbers are disturbingly low, and career progression for women faculty of color is disturbingly slow. In engineering, recent data compiled by the ASEE reveal that as of Fall 2010, of the 24,419 engineering faculty in ABET accredited programs, 3,232 were women, and of those women, 119 were African American, 20 of whom were full professors, 39 of whom were associate professors, and 60 of whom were assistant professors. The barriers facing women of color in the academy are well documented, and policy implications to mitigate these barriers deserve immediate and forceful attention. Low numbers and inherent biases contribute to the marginality, invisibility, isolation, heavier burdens, and retarded career progression that women faculty of color face. Legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Title IX Law of 1972, and the Equal Opportunities for Women and Minorities in Science and Technology Act of 1981
along with commissions, task forces and reports have the potential for significant impact if properly implemented. It is important that agencies, institutions and organizations work together and that the collective voice of women faculty of color is present in these efforts.
BMES offers the following recommendations toward solutions to maximize American talent by advancing women of color in academia:
1. Expand, and make a priority, research and data collection on the academic career progression of women of color, and disaggregate data by race and ethnicity, sex, discipline and institutional type. NSF, NIH and other agencies should collect and report data on minority women at all stages of the academic pathway.
2. Recognize the achievements of women of color through increased nominations and selections for Fellow status, membership in the Academies, and other career impacting awards.
3. Increase advocacy for women of color through existing and new policies at national and institutional levels.
4. Enhance opportunities for funding, networking, mentoring, and professional development; existing programs that target women and minorities should include components that specifically address women of color; mechanisms should be established to develop women of color leaders.
5. Enforce accountability within institutions and agencies, require evaluations and invoke consequences for a lack of progress in advancing the careers of women of color.
6. Draw national and sustained attention, including White House involvement, to efforts to advance the academic careers of women of color; the NSF Career-Life Balance program and the attention it has received can serve as a model.
7. Revise the academic reward structure so that credit is given to women of color for mentoring, serving as a role model and other service-related activities for which they bear a disproportionate responsibility.
8. Educate agency officials, academic administrators, educators, and others who have career-impacting influence over women of color on barriers they face and on how to mentor and advance the careers of women of color.