The NIH-TAC (Transforming Academic Culture) Trial

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Executive Summary (pdf)
Stephanie Abbuhl MD and Jeane Ann Grisso MD MSc (Joint Principal Investigators)

Trial Publications, Posters & Abstracts to Date (click to see current work)

Women have not advanced through the academic pipeline despite decades of increased representation in medical schools, fellowships, and junior faculty ranks. According to national data from the AAMC, from 1985 to 2009, the percentage of all women faculty at the full professor rank rose from 9.9% to 12.4%, an increase of only 2.5% over a period of 24 years. Because of the dearth of women leaders in science, a 2007 National Academies report urgently called for a broad, national effort to maximize the potential of women scientists. In response, NIH developed a unique RO1 funding opportunity to accelerate progress in advancing women's careers in medicine and science.

With enthusiastic support from the Dean of the School of Medicine and the President of the University of Pennsylvania, a multidisciplinary team of faculty and researchers at Penn (including the FOCUS team) collaborated to implement a cluster-randomized intervention trial. We hypothesized that a multi-level, coordinated intervention would improve academic productivity, job satisfaction, and the overall quality of life for junior women faculty in intervention departments compared with their counterparts in control departments. The goal was to create an environment where women could succeed fully in their careers, thus maximizing their contributions to academic medicine and improving the workplace for all faculty, both men and women.

Eligible departments and divisions in the School of Medicine were randomly assigned to intervention and control groups. The intervention included three components: 1) junior women faculty participation in the nationally-recognized Total Leadership Program alternated with a series of Writing Workshops on manuscript preparation; 2) specific sessions for the leaders of intervention departments and divisions; 3) structured, facilitated task forces in each intervention department/division to conduct analyses of work practices, recruitment, mentorship, and cultural attitudes and develop recommendations for change. We tested a theoretical model that explored whether the intervention initiative improved the supportiveness of the work environment for women faculty. We developed a new survey tool for this analysis, the Culture Conducive to Women’s Academic Success (CCWAS) measure. Key facets of the CCWAS measure include: interpersonal inclusiveness, equal access to resources, support for work-family needs, and freedom from sexual harassment and unconscious bias. Greater supportiveness was expected to translate into improved personal and professional outcomes for women faculty.

We enrolled 134 women in 27 departments/divisions. Based on previous pilot data from Penn, we estimated that we would have greater than 80 percent power to detect an increase of 1.5 newly accepted publications per year, a 50% improvement in the average annual number of publications (mean=3, sd=3 per year). The study had greater power to detect improvements in perceptions of the work environment, job satisfaction and quality of life. General linear regression models were used to estimate associations between within-woman change in study outcomes and treatment assignment. The model will incorporate the clustering by division and adjust statistical tests for any correlation induced by the clustered design. Additional analyses examined unit level average performance outcomes to identify department/divisional predictors of success. Based on organizational change theory and the extraordinary commitment of resources from the School of Medicine, this intervention has enormous potential to demonstrate institutional change and rigorously evaluate promising approaches to improve the success of women faculty in academic medicine.

TACTrialOverviewSchematic (click to view)



NIH-TAC Trial Specific Writing to Date


Abstracts & Posters

  • Westring AF, Sammel MD, Speck RM, Tuton LW, Scott P, Abbuhl SB, Grisso JA: Work-family culture in the context of women’s careers. Oral presentation at the International Center for Work and Family Conference (Innovations in Work-Family Research and Practice) in Barcelona, Spain July 2011.
  • Abbuhl SB, Scott P, Tuton LW, Westring A, Speck RM, Sammel M, Conant EF, Friedman S, Sonnad S, McGowan K, Grisso JA: An overview of NIH-TAC trial progress: a unique NIH funded multi-level, cluster-randomized intervention trial to enchance insitutional culture and women's success in academic medicine. Poster presentation at the AAMC Annual Meeting in Denver, CO November 2011. (Poster, pdf)
  • Westring AF, Sammel MD, Speck RM, Scott P, Tuton LW, Grisso JA, Abbuhl SB: Culture and conflict: exploring the protective effects of a supportive work culture on women's experiences in academic medicine. Symposium presentation at Work and Family Researchers Network Conference (Women, Work and Life in the STEM Fields) in New York, New York June 2012.
  • Westring AF, Speck RM, Sammel MD, Friedman S, Conant EF, Scott P, Tuton LW, Grisso JA, Abbuhl SB: Women’s work-family conflict in academic medicine: a cluster-randomized controlled trial. Oral presentation at the V International Conference of Work and Family (V ICWF), “Work and Family: Leadership for the 21st century,” in Barcelona, Spain July 2013.
  • Westring AF, Sammel MD, Speck RM, Conant EF, Friedman S, Scott P, Tuton LW, Grisso JA, Abbuhl SB: The impact of a multilevel intervention on work-family conflict in a randomized controlled trial. Symposium presentation at Work and Family Researchers Network Conference (Changing Work and Family Relationships in a Global Economy) in New York, New York June 2014. (PPT, pdf)
  • Westring AF, Speck RM, Sammel MD, Scott P, Tuton LW, Conant EF, Abbuhl SB, Grisso JA: Factors impacting the attrition of women faculty in academic medicine.  Symposium presentation at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Conference (Gendered Experiences in STEM: Understanding Drivers of Staying and Leaving) in Philadelphia, PA April 2015. (PPT, pdf)