Stanford News


CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558

Uphill battle to improve status of women on the faculty

"It's a story of partial progress," said law Professor Deborah Rhode of Provost Condoleezza Rice's March 6 report to the Faculty Senate on the status of women faculty at Stanford.

"We've made some gains but some of the statistics that were cited remind us of the distance we still have to travel," said Rhode, who helped organize the Women's Faculty Caucus, a group that meets several times a year to discuss a variety of issues pertaining to female faculty.

In her report to the senate, Rice described several initiatives that have been undertaken to increase the number of women on the professoriate, but she conceded that progress "has not moved as quickly as we would like."

This assessment comes three years after the senate endorsed a resolution calling on the administration to increase efforts to recruit and retain women on the faculty. The senate's action was prompted by the findings of a committee, commissioned in 1992 by then-Provost Gerald Lieberman, which revealed that Stanford lagged far behind other top schools in the hiring, promotion and pay of female faculty members.

"We will keep trying to climb out of the bottom-tier status," said Rice, who added that despite progress, little had changed in Stanford's standing in the past three years because its peer institutions also have continued to make progress on the gender equity front.

In September 1993, the percentage of women on the faculty at Stanford was 15.8 percent. By September 1996, that figure had increased to 17.8 percent. The percentage of women on the tenured faculty during this period climbed from 11.2 percent to 13.3 percent.

"Obviously this is slow, steady progress in the right direction, but I'd emphasize that the numbers are not flying up," Rice said.

Last fall, members of the women's caucus asked the provost to update the campus on steps the university has taken in recent years to improve gender equity among the faculty.

After the senate meeting on Thursday, Rhode said, "I think that the university administration is making a real good faith effort to address these problems and to be frank about the problems that remain. That, in and of itself, is a sign of considerable progress, but there is still a way to go."

Barbara Babcock, professor of law and a member of the caucus, agreed. "I'm impressed by how seriously the administration has taken this, but they can't stop here. Some incremental steps have been taken to improve the status of women on the faculty and there has been some progress. Now, we have got to do something dramatic and treat this as an urgent priority," she said.

Missing in action

In Rhode's opinion, the most striking example of where women faculty are still "missing in action" is in leadership positions held within the university.

Currently, the provost is the only female faculty member who holds a cabinet-level position; all of the deans in the university are men. Only two of the 23 associate deans are women, 10 of the 67 department chairs are women, and 17 of the 237 holders of endowed chairs are women.

Al Camarillo, professor of history and chairman of the new program in comparative studies in race and ethnicity, suggested that hiring goals be set so that the university can measure its progress in recruiting women faculty five to 10 years down the line.

Establishing institutional targets, Camarillo said, might be an important way of accelerating the pace of change and ensuring that university administrators remain focused on this issue.

Rice disagreed, saying she is reluctant to set numerical goals of any kind. The university, she said, doesn't want to send a message to potential candidates that its recruiting women faculty to fulfill a quota rather than because of their own merits.

"The upside of the goal of trying to express institutional commitment [by setting quotas]," Rice said, "is more than outweighed by the downside, which I believe makes people feel as if they are being targeted for wrong reasons."

She does, however, support having internal discussions with deans and department chairs about reasonable expectations on the makeup of the pool of potential candidates in their respective fields, she said. Even if this process appears to be "low-key," she said, the deans are aware that bolstering the ranks of women on the faculty is an important priority for the university.

Babcock, who doesn't like the idea of quotas either, believes the administration, school deans and department chairs, nonetheless, should be more vocal about their desire to hire the best women faculty in the country.

"Let's treat this as something we are going to do and go all out to recruit the best women," she said after the senate meeting.

Initiatives to improve status of women on faculty

Rice outlined several initiatives the university has undertaken to respond to concerns that were identified by the women's faculty committee report in 1993. That report has since come to be known as the Strober report after Myra Strober, professor of education, who chaired the committee.

One of the Strober committee's recommendations was "to create a culture of support" for junior faculty, who tended to feel like they were on trial during their untenured years. According to the Strober report, many women reported problems, related directly or indirectly to gender discrimination, sexual harassment or the challenge of being the primary child-rearer.

Rice reported substantial progress in this area. Important funds for junior faculty fellowships in humanities, social sciences, engineering and medicine have since been secured, she noted, and all faculty, especially department chairs, are continually reminded that they must take seriously the mentoring of junior faculty.

The position of vice provost for faculty recruitment and development, which is currently held by law Professor Bob Weisberg, also has helped foster a more supportive environment among the faculty, Rice said.

In response to recent conversations with Weisberg and the women's caucus, Rice announced that a new faculty member will be added to the provost's office for a period of time to help deal systematically with some of the questions of support for junior faculty and women faculty.

Another area of concern raised in the Strober report was the low number and percentage of tenured women faculty at Stanford. Rather than look at year to year fluctuations, which tend to mask signs of progress because the university isn't hiring many people in the first place, Rice decided to concentrate on tenure-line faculty who were hired between the years 1984-85 and 1988-89 because these are the people who should have come up for tenure by now.

"On the promotions data, there seems to be no gender effect," Rice reported. "Women are doing at least as well as men in the percentage of those who come up for tenure and get tenure and, in some cases, they are doing better."

While the number of women deans and associate deans remains low, Rice pointed out that the number of women faculty who hold department chairs is considerably higher than it was in 1992-93.

"If you consider this as a potential pipeline for leadership positions going forward," she said, "I think this is good news."

The small number of women who hold endowed chairs, Rice explained, has to do, in part, with the fact that turnover in occupancy of endowed chairs is very low. Most faculty hiring, she added, is done at the junior level and the majority of endowed chairs are awarded to senior faculty.

Turning to the issue of salary equity, Rice reported that the average female full professor in 1992-93 earned 87 percent of a male full professor's salary. By 1995-96, this gap had narrowed, with female professors earning 92.5 percent of males' pay.

In more than half of the departments, Rice added, this number is in the 98 to 101 percent range. Departments where the percentage is still in the 80s, she said, tend to be those where women are late-comers to the faculty, such as engineering and the natural sciences.

Responding to recent concerns raised by the women's caucus about salaries at the low and high ends of the pay spectrum, Rice told the senate that she plans to appoint a small group of faculty whose own research agenda includes statistics and labor economics to look more closely at the salary equity picture.

The last point Rice addressed was ways the university is helping faculty to combine work and family. Rice reminded the senate that the university recently eliminated the two-child limit on extensions of the tenure clock, replacing it with a 10-year cap.

She also pointed to improvements at the Work/Life Center and the creation of new seminars for junior faculty on work and family issues as evidence that the university has made progress in this area.


By Marisa Cigarroa