San Diego's Salk Institute has long been regarded as a bastion for scientific advancements. Two longtime researchers say those advancements do not apply to gender rights and equal pay for the institute's female scientists.
In two new lawsuits filed on July 11, Katherine Jones PhD, a 30-year-long employee who specializes in cancer and AIDs research, and Victoria Lundblad PhD, who was recruited in 2003 as an expert in molecular and cell biology, say the Salk Institute is "stifled" by "stagnant, archaic, and discriminatory practices," and is run by a team of "good old boys," some of which are "overtly chauvinistic."
"The Salk Institute has created a culture where women are paid less, not promoted, and denied opportunities and benefits simply because they are women. To date, the culture of discrimination and the resulting hostile work environment encountered by some senior female faculty, past and present, has persisted because the Salk Institute has allowed the culture to exist. While the Salk Institute has publicly portrayed it is supportive of women scientists, the reality is the Salk Institute is highly dependent on public donations and support, and created a fund-raising campaign to promote the false idea that The Salk Institute strongly supports women in science."
Examples of the discriminatory practices included in the lawsuit is the rate at which associate professors are promoted to what are called "full professors."
In Jones' lawsuit, the complaint states that women researchers are often forced to remain as associates for as long as six years before being considered for a promotion, whereas male professors often are moved up after a year's time. Of the 33 full professors at Salk three are women. Of those full professors only two women have been awarded "endowments" which result in increased funding and pay. Conversely, 17 men now hold endowments. Jones, according to the lawsuit, is the longest serving faculty member without an endowment. In addition, Jones says that despite her skills in fundraising for HIV cures, administrators at Salk have continuously cut her laboratory budget.
According to Jones, she is one of the lowest-paid faculty members. Jones allegedly raised the issue of pay and lack of endowment to Salk Institute's president William Brody in 2014, however, nothing was done.
In Lundblad's case, the discrimination is seen in the rarity she and other female professors are asked to present their findings during faculty retreats. Lundblad claims that the female professors are continually asked to shrink their operating budgets, resulting in a disproportionate-sized laboratories.
"Salk continues to use its female faculty members and scientists as 'donor-bait' by sending mailers like that pictured below to potential donors and to the public in an effort to make it appear that Salk recognizes the importance of retaining and promoting and paying women equally. In reality, Salk’s systemic practices and treatment of women have been and continue to be discriminatory."
Adds Lundblad's lawsuit, "Salk’s administration allows implicit and explicit biases to run rampant. When the only three Salk tenured women professors make significant accomplishments, they are disregarded as 'lucky,' with Salk failing to correct or stop such derogatory comments. These type of implicit biases are called 'prove it again' biases where women consistently must demonstrate over and over again they are 'worthy' of their status, because they are not treated as equals.
Salk Institute responded after this story went live Thurs. afternoon (July 13):
"Throughout its 57-year history, the Salk Institute’s collaborative work environment has enabled Salk scientists to conduct innovative and daring research into the most serious biological questions of our time.
Salk is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all. Institute policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, race, age, disability and sexual orientation or any other protected classification. The Institute will vigorously defend itself through the legal system against any allegations of gender discrimination with full confidence in prevailing.
Drs. Jones and Lundblad, whose laboratories have received over $5 million in support from the Institute over the past 10 fiscal years, have been treated generously by the Institute, including relative to their male peers. Each scientist’s lucrative compensation package is consistent with well-recognized metrics that have been applied to all Salk faculty in a nondiscriminatory manner. Additionally, the Institute has always strived in partnership with faculty, and within a very competitive environment, to secure the government and foundation grants that are the cornerstone of our funding and which support the research pursued by Drs. Jones and Lundblad and other faculty members.
Female scientists at Salk have conducted acclaimed research programs since the Institute’s founding, and in the past ten years Salk has appointed an additional eight women scientists to its elite faculty. The Institute is headed by a female president, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, and the majority of the executive leadership team is female. Salk’s Women & Science program, currently in its fifth year, provides a stimulating forum for community leaders to engage with Salk scientists and has raised over $450,000 to support the advancement of women in science. Salk denies that Dr. Jones or Dr. Lundblad have suffered any harm or adverse employment action based on their gender.
The Salk Institute takes pride in a culture driven by a shared passion for tackling some of the most challenging problems facing humanity. Salk employees hail from 46 countries around the globe, speak numerous languages and possess a wide range of perspectives, skills, experience and knowledge. As Dr. Blackburn notes, 'We must draw on the whole of humanity for the best ideas.' That includes and will always include talented female scientists. "