December 14, 2023

Thanks to open and honest participation from the Washington University School of Medicine community, the Executive Faculty Task Force on Climate & Culture has completed the first phase of its work: To assess our learning and academic environments, and to identify aspects of our climate and culture that can lead to a negative atmosphere for women, people of color, and other vulnerable members of our community. Our goal was – and still is – to improve and sustain a culture where everyone is safe, supported and welcome.

We are pleased to share two reports that detail the results of this work. One report comes from Catalyst, a consulting group with expertise in workplace inclusion that we hired to independently assess our climate and culture. The second report comes from the Executive Faculty Task Force and expands upon the Catalyst report.

Task Force report

This report, written by the WashU Medicine Task Force on Climate & Culture, builds upon the Catalyst report. It summarizes key data and lists detailed recommendations.
WUSTL Key required.

Catalyst report

This executive summary from WashU’s external consultant, Catalyst, provides a more detailed data summary, as well as key areas of opportunity.
WUSTL Key required.

Importantly, the Task Force recognizes that in the hierarchical culture of academic medicine, improving the climate requires a focus on faculty leaders. Consequently, many of the report’s recommendations are aimed at supporting leaders to encourage behaviors that foster an inclusive culture, with the understanding that this will improve the climate for learners, staff, and junior faculty members.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who contributed to the process by completing the survey, participating in focus groups, interviews and listening sessions, or sharing your thoughts via the anonymous feedback form. We appreciate your time, candor, and thoughtfulness.

Executive Summary

Written by the Task Force on Climate & Culture, Dec. 2023

The 2023 Executive Faculty Task Force on Climate & Culture was charged with assessment of the current state of Washington University School of Medicine (WashU Medicine) with regard to learner and faculty experiences of sexual harassment and gender discrimination and a focus on the academic mission of the School. The culture of WashU Medicine is based on the history and traditions of our School and reflects our values and norms. Our climate is how we experience this culture. A positive climate can decrease sexual harassment, reduce retaliation and fear of reporting, and thereby provide the psychological safety needed for students, trainees, staff, and faculty to do their best work. Climate is directly influenced by unit leaders, while culture evolves over time from the mutual experiences and shared learning of a community. Thus, this Task Force set out to assess elements of both culture and climate at WashU Medicine.

The Task Force worked with an external consultant, Catalyst – a multinational nonprofit that focuses on inclusion in the workplace. Together with Catalyst, Task Force members reviewed data collected through surveys, focus groups, interviews, listening sessions, and anonymous messages and developed a series of recommendations designed to improve the climate for all learners, staff, and faculty at WashU Medicine.

The formal mixed methods data analysis revealed themes regarding culture, leadership, and career advancement & retention. In particular, trust, communication, and fair processes were emphasized as key areas of focus.

Based on the data analyses, the Task Force developed a set of recommendations to address (1) reporting of sexual harassment and unprofessional behaviors; (2) ongoing assessment of climate and culture; (3) prevention of unacceptable behaviors – including prevention of retaliation; (4) ongoing assessment and enhancement of leadership skills with a focus on Division Chiefs, Section Heads, and Principal Investigators; (5) deliberate attention to any potential or perceived inequities in faculty career advancement.

Institutions – and leaders at all levels – have a critical impact on the climate in which learners, staff, and faculty work and study. It is crucial that the WashU Medicine community, and its leaders, take clear and consistent action to visibly demonstrate that harassment and unprofessional behavior of any kind are unacceptable and that retaliation against those who report any such behaviors is not tolerated.


1. Reporting unprofessional or otherwise inappropriate behavior:

  1. Simplify the structure of reporting with “one front door” for all types of report.
  2. Accelerate a broad communication campaign to raise awareness of the existing and revised reporting structures.
  3. Provide an annual WashU Medicine Human Resources Report.

2. Training regarding prevention of sexual harassment and retaliation:

  1. Continue to mandate annual training on each of these topics.
  2. Tailor training for leaders separately from faculty, trainees, students, and staff.
  3. Create and implement new training on how to report incidents of concern and when reporting is mandatory.
  4. Increase WashU Medicine involvement in the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education.

3. Develop or revise targeted policies:

  1. Develop a new policy regarding alcohol consumption in laboratories and during WashU Medicine activities.
  2. Update the WashU Medicine faculty parental leave policy.

4. Ongoing assessment of Climate & Culture:

  1. Select and deploy a biannual Climate Survey for WashU Medicine.
  2. Develop and implement a system for exit surveys and exit interviews.

5. Leadership Development:

  1. Accelerate the development and implementation of a comprehensive leadership development program for WashU Medicine faculty. Focus on Division Chiefs, Section Heads, and Principal Investigators.
  2. Expedite the development and implementation of a coaching program for WashU Medicine faculty.
  3. Enhance annual evaluations to focus on leadership development for WashU Medicine faculty leaders.

6. Complete the revision of WashU Medicine Promotion Criteria to recognize and reward the full range of careers at WashU Medicine:

  1. Include an updated statement on professionalism.
  2. Monitor time to promotion across demographic groups to discern and address potential inequities.

Next steps

Moving forward with the recommendations and into a new phase of the process, the Executive Faculty is forming an Implementation Task Force that will be headed by Michael S. Avidan, MBBCh, the Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor and head of the Department of Anesthesiology, and Linda J. Richards, PhD, the Edison Professor of Neurobiology and head of the Department of Neuroscience. The new Task Force will be composed of department heads and representatives from Human Resources and the Office of General Counsel, key leaders with the authority to enact the recommendations highlighted in the new reports.

Recommendations in progress

Some recommendations developed by the Task Force on Climate & Culture are being acted upon already, including:

  • Modernizing the promotion criteria for faculty to recognize and reward the full range of faculty activities and the diversity of careers in academic medicine
  • Developing systems to monitor time to promotion for our faculty
  • Exploring options, with our colleagues in Human Resources, to simplify the reporting systems
  • Developing a process for systematic faculty exit surveys to help monitor climate and culture, and to help us proactively address problems, if necessary