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Faculty Women’s Forum’s work pivots during the pandemic

During the pandemic, the Faculty Women’s Forum has continued to provide opportunities for faculty members – regardless of gender – to discuss shared interests, concerns and ideas, and to engage in action promoting greater faculty equity, inclusion and success.

When the pandemic hit last year and the Stanford Faculty Women’s Forum began to hear about struggles many faculty members were facing, the group didn’t hesitate to act.

The forum, which has supported female faculty members since 2004 with resources, events, research and policy recommendations, now turned those efforts to help ease the burdens brought on by COVID-19.

“We were hearing from the enormous struggles some women faculty members were facing with the loss of childcare and school support due to the pandemic,” said Mary Hawn, the Emile Holman Professor in Surgery at the School of Medicine and a member of the forum’s Steering Committee.

“Furthermore, colleagues around the country have been discussing the impact of COVID-19 on productivity, with particular concerns about disparate impacts for women faculty.”

To understand the impact of COVID-19 on academic life at Stanford, the forum distributed a survey to all female faculty members, as well as male faculty members with dependents on their health insurance last June, asking about tenure clock extensions, caregiving responsibilities, effects on research productivity, online teaching and wellness challenges.

“We wanted to measure the impact of COVID-19 so the Faculty Women’s Forum could contribute to university discussions about mitigating the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic on the academic careers of faculty women,” Hawn said.

Read the results of the COVID-19 Faculty Survey.

Making the tenure clock extension automatic

Hawn said the forum contributed to the university’s decision to revise the COVID-19 Tenure and Appointment Clock Extension Policy from “opt-in” to “opt-out.”

“Research has shown that ‘opt-in’ elements of similar policies can advantage male faculty members,” she said. “We had also heard stories of Stanford faculty women who were discouraged from opting in to the one-year extension and were concerned about being left behind their male colleagues who may not be experiencing the same challenges.”

Information on Stanford’s COVID-19 Tenure and Appointment Clock Extension Policy is available in the Faculty Handbook.

Hawn said the results of the faculty survey also influenced Stanford’s decision to grant faculty members a COVID-related quarter off from teaching responsibilities, and to provide language about the university’s pandemic policies – including periods of family and other leaves – to people writing letters for promotion reviews.

Supporting women faculty virtually

Like the rest of the university, the Faculty Women’s Forum, which is affiliated with the Office of Faculty Development, Diversity and Engagement, has been conducting programs virtually since the start of the pandemic.

“The Faculty Women’s Forum embodies the type of work that our office likes to facilitate,” said Matt Snipp, vice provost for faculty development, diversity and engagement.

The forum provides opportunities for faculty members to discuss shared interests, concerns and ideas, and to engage in action promoting greater faculty equity, inclusion and success. Its programs are open to all faculty members, regardless of gender identity.

Each year, the forum partners with organizations across campus to offer programs on a variety of issues. Over the past year, the forum collaborated with institutes and centers across campus, including the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, the Emeriti/ae Council and the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health. The programs covered a variety of topics:

  • Faculty salary equity and transparency
  • Standing up against gender bias and harassment
  • Insights from past Stanford advocates for advancing faculty women through an event with faculty emeritae Myra Strober, Iris Litt and Cecilia Ridgeway
  • Race, history and criminal justice
  • Successfully navigating gendered academic environments

“These collaborations allow us to reach a broader core of Stanford community members interested in the same topics, share the word and avoid duplication of effort,” Hawn said.

Hawn said the forum also benefited from a collaboration with the special events team of the Graduate School of Business, which provided enhanced technological connections for its online programs with the support of Dean Jonathan Levin.

“Our steering committee continues to work with Vice Provost Matt Snipp to engage with faculty on issues of concern to women, and to elevate concerns and contribute to potential solutions,” she said.

Later this spring, the forum will a hold a one-hour virtual event, “Spectacular Failures,” in which several faculty members will share stories about the failures they have experienced and consider the question: In an environment that seems to prize perfection over all else, how can we not only recover from “failures” but use them to thrive? Participants will also have the opportunity to share their own stories.

2021 Faculty Women’s Forum Awards

Last June, the forum launched an annual awards program and presented the Outstanding Leader Award to Jisha Menon, associate professor of theater and performance studies in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and the Outstanding Sponsor Award to Rebecca Aslakson, associate professor of medicine and of anesthesiology in the School of Medicine.

The awards were presented in a virtual ceremony.

This June, in addition to the outstanding leader and outstanding sponsor awards, the forum will present an inspiring early academic career award, an allyship award and the Deborah Rhode Lifetime Achievement Award. (Rhode, the late Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford, died Jan. 8, 2021.)

“We established the awards to recognize and elevate the impact that supporting and promoting women faculty has at Stanford,” Hawn said. “Professor Rhode was a former co-chair of the Faculty Women’s Forum Steering Committee and had a tremendous legacy of advancing the rights and privileges of women throughout her career.”

Nominations for this year’s Faculty Women’s Forum awards close at 8 a.m. PT on May 3. Email nominations to with a subject header that includes the nominee’s name and the award for which the person is being nominated. Read more information about the awards.