Working toward gender equity
By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs
31 January 2001 | Despite strides women have made to achieve equal pay for equal work, sex and race-based discrimination continue to stall women's progress in overcoming segregation and pay inequities, according to speakers at a conference last week on gender equity.
At "Working Toward Gender Equity in the Academy," a two-day University of California systemwide conference, representatives from the nine UC campuses gathered at Berkeley to address gender equity and many other women's issues within the UC system.
The conference was hosted by the Chancellor's Coordinating Committee on the Status of Women and the Committee on the Status of Women and Ethnic Minorities, which are part of Berkeley's Division of the Academic Senate.
"Women continue to be underrepresented in the pool of candidates we draw from and comprise considerably less in the physical sciences and technical fields," said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Gray, who opened the conference. "For example, in the UC system, they comprise 23 percent of all faculty. That percentage has remained flat for several years."
Berkeley, in fact, is less representative of the California population than it was five or 10 years ago. That exacerbates the problem of gender inequities as the University of California begins an unprecedented surge of growth. Over the next decade, UC, which employs 6,400 faculty, expects to hire approximately 750 new ladder-rank faculty. If hiring is as out of balance now as the current figures indicate, "it will be a tragedy of major proportions to allow expansion of the faculty ranks without examining the problem," a report from the Committee on the Status of Women and Minorities noted.
Keynote speaker Nancy Hopkins, in the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, admitted that it took her 15 years to recognize that men and women were not treated equally in the academic environment. "Young women come to MIT believing that gender inequity is a thing of the past, but as they go through their careers, something happens, usually after tenure," she said. "They begin to notice that they are pushed off to the side and excluded from activities that will help them advance.
"They don't get grants. They don't get the laboratory space they need for research. They get less support for graduate student support. They see men going off to start biotech companies. All the while, they are working harder and harder and not getting as far."
Discrimination is subtle but pervasive, she said, and stems largely from unconscious ways of thinking that have been ingrained in men and women alike. The consequences are real and demoralizing, and they won't be solved unless universities have the proper leadership to address underlying problems.
"The answers lie in raising consciousness and fixing the problem," she said, "and they won't just go away. Everyone needs to recognize that these issues have a very high price tag, and they impact women's careers."
In the five years since the adoption of Regents Resolutions SP-1 and SP-2, and passage of Proposition 209, Berkeley has seen a reduction in the number of women and underrepresented minority faculty hired. In the four years (1992-'95) preceding that legislation, 33 percent of faculty hired at Berkeley were women; 11 percent were minorities. During the five years (1996-2000) following passage, only 27 percent were women and 4 percent were minorities.
Systemwide, the statistics are similar. Women faculty hired between 1992 and 1995 comprised 35 percent of total faculty hires; women hired from 1996 to 1999 comprised 28 percent. The decline has been observed across the board, from the humanities and social sciences to the physical sciences and professional schools.
Coinciding with a request from Sen. Jackie Speier of the 8th Senate District, who authorized the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to conduct an audit of UC hiring practices, the conference addressed a variety of possible ways to improve gender and minority representation in higher education.
Christina Maslach, vice provost for undergraduate education, urged participants to "keep an eye on the larger patterns" unfolding in recruitment and retention. "We should be looking at the graduate pipeline and who will fill our shoes in the coming years," she said. "We should examine the number of women scientists, for instance, who are choosing not to enter academia, but instead choose other career paths."
Issues influencing their decisions involve the "mommy track," careers interrupted by childbearing. A general trend has emerged in the number of women graduate students having babies before completing a Ph.D., Maslach pointed out. "More women will go into academia if they've had their children after they've finished their Ph.Ds. If they have children before getting their Ph.Ds, fewer will return to academia."
Even though women are now receiving doctorates in record numbers - they constituted more than 40 percent of the doctoral degrees granted nationwide last year - the drop-out rates remain dismal, said Charles Henry, Berkeley faculty equity associate. That rate is particularly acute in Berkeley's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, for instance, where 50 percent of women graduate students abandon their Ph.D. studies. The numbers of women in psychology are declining too, Maslach added.
The conference carried a strong message that campuses are failing to provide a friendly environment for women, particularly underrepresented minority women. Their numbers have increased since 1992 - 9 percent of all doctorates in 1997 were awarded to minority women, an increase of 8.4 percent over the previous year and a 40 percent increase since 1992 - but the large majority of qualified candidates do not opt for academic careers.
More needs to be done, said Vice Chancellor for Research Beth Burnside. The faculty hired in the next few years will be at the university for 30 years into the future. She suggested that a greater effort be made to get women involved in the recruitment and hiring processes.
"The salary gap (between men and women faculty) is getting wider," warned Mary Ann Mason, dean of the graduate division. "A two-tier career track is being created, with a majority of women faculty taking part-time teaching jobs to raise children. This is not the case just at Berkeley; it represents most of America."
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