Partial Progress'

David Weintraub

At a time when women comprise 40 percent of all faculty and senior staff at the nation’s colleges and universities, the percentage of tenured women on the Stanford faculty hovers at 17.4 percent—up 3 percent from five years ago. While the number of women in leadership positions has improved with several key appointments in recent years—three of the seven schools now have women deans—a new report from the provost’s office finds that “ensuring gender equity in the academic workplace remains a challenge for higher education in general and Stanford in particular.”

Three years in the making, the report is the work of the 13-member Provost’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women Faculty. The committee was launched in 2001, after University president John Hennessy met in Cambridge, Mass., with the presidents of eight other leading research universities—Caltech, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, UC-Berkeley and Yale. The nine men convened for the first MIT Conference on Gender Equity in Sciences and Engineering in the turbulent wake of a 1999 MIT faculty study that showed women in those fields routinely experienced discrimination.

“The data reflect partial progress,” committee chair and law professor Deborah Rhode says about the 176-page report on women at Stanford. “The University has paid quite substantial attention to pay-equity issues for obvious reasons—those are the easiest to quantify, and there are obvious legal implications that follow from failure to address them. But I think one of the striking findings is that while there’s been enormous progress, there’s still progress that remains to be made.”

The overall picture of gender equity on the Farm is “mixed and complicated,” according to the executive summary. For the first time, faculty were asked so-called “quality of life” questions about professional satisfaction, workload and academic climate.

While there are no significant gender differences in overall faculty satisfaction at Stanford, the report notes the low representation of women, particularly women of color, in certain fields, as well as the frequency of “perceived disadvantages due to gender.” What’s more, Rhode says, there is a “unidirectional” pattern of differences campuswide. “Whenever disparities occur, virtually all involve men receiving higher compensation and support than women.”

The report makes 18 recommendations for recruiting, retaining, compensating and supporting women, and vice provost for faculty development Pat Jones says the University is committed to seeing that they are implemented. On-campus child care is at the top of the administration’s concerns. With 500 names on the waiting list, she says, discussion about another on-campus center “is taking place at the highest levels.”

A highly regarded specialist in immunology and the first woman to chair the biology department, Jones has seen the number of women biologists at Stanford climb from one when she was hired in 1972 to 13 today, comprising 28 percent of her department’s professoriate. Jones put discussion of the advisory committee’s report on the agenda at the annual meeting of department chairs and also met with faculty late in September to talk about the findings.

The 2004 Stanford report comes five years after the U.S. Department of Labor launched a still-open investigation into Stanford’s hiring and promotion of women faculty, and more than 10 years after a 1993 report by the Provost’s Committee on the Recruitment and Retention of Women Faculty, chaired by education professor Myra Strober. At the time of that study, women comprised 11.2 percent of the tenured faculty, and many of them, according to the new document, felt “isolated, unsupported and overburdened.”

“We pointed to the need for changing the culture of support,” Strober said in a recent interview. “The way I view the new report is that change is taking place slowly, the percentage of women faculty is increasing, the salary equity is getting better, child care is getting better and women’s leadership is getting better.”

Sociologist Cecilia Ridgeway, whom the provost has invited to speak to meetings of department chairs about gender equity and stereotype biases, commends the University’s stated desire to increase the representation of women in the professoriate and to address their professional well-being.

Avoiding lawsuits, “keeping the feds off your back, maintaining good press—all those externalities are best accomplished by just being better at it,” Ridgeway says. “The current administration knows it’s the right thing and the smart thing to do.”