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History of Gender Equity at Rush

Good News About the Status of Women at Rush

  • Rush University has a female interim provost, Christine M. Kennedy, PhD, RN, FAAN, and had a female provost, Susan L. Freeman, MD, MS, from 2019 to 2022
  • Rush University had a female president, Sherine E. Gabriel, MD, MSc, from 2019 to 2022
  • Rush Medical College has a female interim dean, Cynthia Brincat, MD, PhD
  • Rush has a female chairman of the Rush System Board of Governors, Susan Crown
  • 40% of Rush's leaders are women
  • 72% of Rush's workforce are women
  • 45% of residents and fellows are women
  • 74% of Rush University’s students are women
  • 46% of Rush University's faculty are women

Today, Rush is more than a year into a five-year plan to put more women into the pipeline to leadership, which is a crucial aspect of the campaign for equality. This effort includes increasing women's representation in academic leadership and on standing committees of the Board of Trustees; creating opportunities for women to participate in high-profile activities both in and outside the institution; and aiming to garner employee satisfaction scores from women that are as good as those from men.

With a history that stretches back to 1837 — when Rush Medical College received its charter — Rush has undergone a great deal of change since the beginning; its resilience may be one good reason for its success. For decades, Rush has embraced diversity and inclusion, and has been an early adopter and strong advocate for equality for women in the workforce.

In 2006, a women's advisory group to the dean, comprising female physicians and scientists, began meeting to share with one another their pride in their accomplishments — and their concerns about where their careers were going. In the beginning, this was more of an affinity group than anything else, says Sheila A. Dugan, MD, a co-founder of the group, and a longtime leader in efforts to achieve equality for women at Rush.

"We got together and talked about barriers and opportunities, but we were mostly speaking to each other," she says.

There was no structure for addressing their concerns, for putting the ideas the women were discussing into action, or for purposefully helping them move into leadership. But by 2008, women from the corporate side of Rush were beginning to join the group. Eventually, it changed enough to merit a new name — the Provost’s Committee on Gender Issues.

In 2010, encouraged by the number of women who were meeting to talk about how to access better opportunities, the members founded the Women's Leadership Council under the auspices of the Office of Faculty Affairs.

"We reported up through the Diversity Leadership Council as a way to have a broader audience and more creative ideas," recalls Dugan, who now chairs the council, which has grown in strength and purpose over the years. "That really increased our visibility," especially because Larry Goodman, MD, Rush's chief executive officer at the time, was the group's sponsor.

In 2015, the Council did its own study of leadership at Rush, using focus groups to identify areas that needed improvement and to suggest strategies. Transparency was one weak spot, in terms of available opportunities for advancement as well as information about how a candidate might qualify for them. Pay equity was another issue, and so was accountability for positive change among managers.

"You want to see people in leadership that look like you. Diversifying leadership is one way to inspire people to higher purpose and more job satisfaction," Dugan says.

Rush took on the challenge. By 2016, a comprehensive program set in motion an analysis of the composition of the faculty and the leadership team; women's leadership training; the establishment of strategies to recruit and retain female leaders; and efforts to improve the annual review process and to tackle the issue of pay equity.