CommUNITYten conference unites leaders and professionals in medicine and science

A person giving a video presentationWomen comprise half of the scientific and medical workforce in this country yet hold fewer leadership positions than their counterparts. Further, research shows that formal programs and events to build allyship, peer sponsorship and peer support boost gender equity in these fields. That’s why the Big Ten Academic Alliance and The Ohio State University joined together to host the inaugural CommUNITYten: The Big Ten Academic Alliance for Women in Medicine and Biomedical Science Conference.

Over two days in June, 180 students, trainees, staff, faculty and industry professionals from across the country, region and state came together to build relationships and support to form networks that increase their visibility and promotion in their fields. The engaging presentations and workshops, including science communication training with Nancee Moes (pictured above) from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, focused on building community, professional development and education on gender equity and how to create more inclusive environments in academia.

Kristy Townsend, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery and principal investigator of the Neurobiology and Energy Balance Laboratory at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, served as one of the co-leads for this initiative. She says the conference included a day-and-a-half of two concurrent sessions with colleagues from 10 academic institutions and several industry companies in attendance, as well as numerous allies, learners and staff.

“People shared data, resources, knowledge and inspiration, but we also saw so many important contacts made that we hope lead to collaboration, mentorship and sponsorship,” Dr. Townsend says. “The energy was palpable – lots of excitement around what we can do together to promote better gender equity in medicine and biomedical science across our institutions.”

J. Nwando Olayiwola, MD, MPH, adjunct professor at the Ohio State College of Medicine and chief health equity officer and senior vice president at Humana, Inc., began the conference with a powerful presentation, titled “First and Foremost – The Power of Women Leading in Medicine and Science.” She set the stage by defining the need for resources and self-care to do well and function successfully in demanding and complex roles.

“Self-care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Dr. Olayiwola says. “Prioritize yourself without guilt.”  

She also linked this message to the day’s mindfulness session with Maryanna Klatt, PhD, clinical professor of Family and Community Medicine and director of Integrative Health at the College of Medicine, and the visit by dogs with the Buckeye Paws Program.

Dr. Olayiwola described how setting boundaries can transform self-confidence to self-activation by showing others your ability to perform and, at the same time, recognize self-care needs necessary to do well. She said this approach requires incentivizing that people take care of themselves. 

“Create safe spaces for women,” Dr. Olayiwola says. “Make sure everyone knows resources that are available, schedule meetings with intention and tap into mentorship programs.” 

This was a strong introduction to the two-day conference on creating a more inclusive and healthier environment in academia. Other key themes from the meeting included: 

  • the numerous roles we all play in each other’s career, from ally, advocate, coach, teacher, mentor and sponsor. 
  • research coaching was covered by accredited coach Katy Mahoney, PhD. 
  • faculty development consultant at the College of Medicine Merle Graybill, PCC, gave mini executive coaching sessions to attendee raffle winners. 
  • gender equity outside the workplace was the topic of a workshop with Kate Mangino, PhD, a Columbus gender expert and author of Equal Partners. 
  • authentic leadership and authentic communication, with a storythinking and creativity workshop from Just Bloom School outside Columbus. 
  • communicating science workshop on the Alda Method. 
  • talks from leadership experts like Reshma Jagsi, MD, the Lawrence W. Davis Professor and chair of Department of Radiation Oncology at Emory University, and Nancy Spector, MD, executive director of Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine and Executive Leadership in Health Care at Drexel University College of Medicine. 

The CommUNITYten initiative isn’t stopping here. The next host of a 2026 in-person conference will be announced later this year, and the group is about to launch an environmental scan survey across the BTAA schools. In the interim year, there will also be webinars available with content similar to the inaugural conference.