Senior leadership positions at cancer centers lack diversity, survey reveals

A new national survey reveals a dramatic lack of diversity in senior leadership positions at the nation's cancer centers.

The survey results and commentary appear in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Caryn Lerman, PhD, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Keck Medicine of USC, and her colleagues at the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI), assessed the gender and racial diversity among 82 cancer center directors, 62 deputy directors, 639 associate directors and 795 cancer research program leaders.

Only seven percent of cancer center directors identified as Hispanic, two percent as Black, 10 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander, and one percent as other or more than one race.

Women leaders were also underrepresented. For example, only 16 percent of cancer center directors identified as female.

This data shows that sole reliance on the current center leadership pipeline is unlikely to produce the diversity in cancer center leadership needed to address the needs of the diverse populations our cancer centers serve. Of perhaps greatest concern is the fact that emerging cancer center leaders, those in mid-level cancer center leadership positions (associate directors or cancer research program leaders), were only marginally more diverse than current leaders."

Caryn Lerman, president of the AACI

In the report, the authors also describe best practices to ensure that emerging cancer center leaders are poised to succeed.

Under Lerman's leadership, the AACI is launching a leadership diversity and development workshop as well as developing a toolkit to disseminate broadly to cancer centers.

"A diverse and well-prepared leadership workforce in the nation's cancer centers is vital to tackle national challenges in the delivery of equitable cancer care," said Lerman.

Under the leadership of Chanita Hughes-Halbert, PhD, the associate director for cancer equity with USC Norris, the comprehensive cancer center has focused efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion. A nationally recognized researcher dedicated to addressing racial disparities in cancer risk and treatment, Hughes-Halbert joined USC Norris to advance research initiatives to benefit underserved communities. Furthermore, USC Norris offers leadership mentoring at every stage of career evolution, beginning with newly recruited faculty.

The AACI represents 104 of the leading academic and freestanding cancer research centers in North America, with a mission of accelerating progress against cancer by enhancing the impact of academic cancer centers.

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