Penn faculty sees improvements in gender equality


Smaller schools saw decline in numbers of female faculty, despite overall trend




Penn has seen an increase in the percentage of women faculty and leaders in the past four years.

The Progress Report on Gender Equity — the University’s seventh evaluation on the status of women faculty — was released today. It showed an overall increase in the proportion of women in all faculty ranks since the last update, which reported statistics for 2007. The new report is based on the 2011-2012 school year.

Throughout the University overall, the proportion of women faculty members rose from 28.4 percent in 2007 to 30.7 percent in 2011.

In 2007 Penn ranked fifth among 17 universities in an “Ivy-Plus” group with regard to the percentage of women of tenure-stream faculty. The University is now ranked sixth in the group.

Penn’s largest schools have contributed to the greatest growth proportionally. For example, a 1.7-percent increase in the proportion of women faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences had a substantial effect on the number of women faculty in Penn.

The largest percentage increases since the last report are found in the Annenberg School for Communication (6.3 percent), the School of Veterinary Medicine (5.0 percent), the School of Dental Medicine (5.0 percent), the Perelman School of Medicine (3.3 percent) and the Law School (3.0 percent).

Dean of the Medical School J. Larry Jameson attributes part of the Medical School’s growth to its “robust search process.” He said he and his colleagues make sure that they are casting a “wide net” in order to review a diverse applicant pool.

However, not all schools saw an increase in the percentage of women faculty. Since 2007, there has been a decline in the number of female faculty in the Graduate School of Education, School of Social Policy and Practice, School of Design and School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The report does note that small schools are prone to appearing more variable than their numbers actually are. According to the report, numerical changes in representation translate into larger percentage changes.

Richard Gelles, the dean of SP2, explained why his school seemingly had a large decline. “We have 20 standing faculty positions. That means each person is worth 5 percent.”

Retention is just as important to the representation of women faculty as hiring is. More women were hired and fewer women left the University between 2007 and 2011 than between the last four-year period starting in 2003.

Gelles emphasized the importance of helping faculty in their new positions. When he brings on a new faculty member he asks him or her, “What is it going to take for you to succeed?” Gelles said his goal is to find and eliminate “unconscious biases” within the structure of the school.

Gelles also pointed out that there are inherent differences between the professional experiences of men and women. When non-tenured faculty members are hired, they have a six-year window to work toward tenure. This pressure can be especially difficult for women trying to raise families. “Men faculty don’t have babies or nurse … when men faculty have babies and nurse, then it will be an equal playing field,” he said.

Beyond hiring and retention, the University has also made strides in promoting women faculty to leadership positions. “We are very pleased that the proportion of women in leadership positions at Penn has increased steadily over the past several years,” Vice Provost for Faculty Lynn Lees said.

Lees said that programs that encourage women to go onto graduate studies and enter the academic field are important, especially in the fields where they are underrepresented.

Jameson agreed that such pipeline programs work, and emphasized the importance of having female role models. “As we have attracted more women into the field of medicine and life sciences [they] are in the position to be role models and attract people into the field.”

“Build an environment that is conducive to diversity, and you’ll be diverse,” Gelles said.

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