Molly Carnes

Molly CarnesM.D and Professor, UW-Madison Department of Medicine.

“To move past these unconscious [gender] assumptions we will have to hit this thing from all angles and make a collective offense.”

When Molly Carnes received tenure in 1990 in the Department of Medicine at UW- Madison, she was the only woman with tenure in her department. That experience began a commitment to study the challenges facing women in academics. Her goal is to increase the diversity of leadership in academic medicine, science and engineering, with a particular emphasis on gender equity. Her research focuses on decision-making processes at critical points in an academic career, such as hiring, promotion, and competition for prestigious awards.

Indeed, the view through the glass ceiling of science is not a pretty one. According to the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI), which she helped found and co-directs, 45 percent of doctorates in the life sciences are awarded to women, yet women account for only 15 percent of tenured positions in those fields. In engineering and the physical sciences, those numbers are 15 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Carnes works to increase the awareness of assumptions about gender and to show how these assumptions can thwart hiring the best applicant or funding the most creative science.

She believes the impacts of prejudice and bias on leadership advancement in academic institutions is critical. Not changing these attitudes is a waste of human capital and puts the future of academics in jeopardy.

“I wanted to know what could possibly be “killing off” these women students before they ever got to be full professors,” says Carnes. “There is no disease in Western society that has the mortality rate that we see in these poor women scientists.”

Carnes received her M.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo and trained in internal medicine and geriatrics at UW-Madison, where she earned an MS degree in population health.

Molly Carnes at the 2013 BLE