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Overview

The goal of the Gender Equity Project is to leverage the MIT School of Science report (see History) for the most positive outcome in redressing gender bias in higher education.

 

Within MIT, we aim to institutionalize a process whereby

  1. women faculty members are assured of equity, and
  2. where their future marginalization is prevented.

Beyond MIT, we will use the lessons, successes, resistances, and failures of our MIT experience to help other universities

  1. creatively confront these issues, and
  2. consider using MIT's approach of committees focused on the equity and marginalization issues of women faculty.

 

History

School of Science Report

In March 1999, MIT released "A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT," an analysis of the women faculty members at MIT's School of Science. This report addressed the question of why, thirty years after civil rights and affirmative action legislation, there are still so few women on the science faculty. The report also included an evaluation of the quality of the professional lives of those women. At the outset of the study, there were 15 tenured women and 194 tenured men in the 6 departments of the School of Science. The report identified what we believe are several key reasons for the small number of women faculty. Clearly, a key causal factor was the gender bias that women faculty experience as they progressed through their academic careers.

The report's key findings were:

  • Junior women faculty feel well supported within their departments and most do not believe that gender bias will impact their careers; they believe, however, that family-work conflicts may impact their careers.
  • Many tenured women faculty feel marginalized and excluded from a significant role in their departments.
  • Marginalization increases as women progress through their careers at MIT, and was often accompanied by differences in salary, space, awards, resources, and response to outside offers; women receiving less despite professional accomplishments equal to those of their male colleagues.
  • This pattern repeats itself in successive generations of women faculty: as of 1994, the percent of women faculty in the School of Science (8%) had not changed significantly for at least 10 and probably 20 years. The inclusion of substantial numbers of women on the science and engineering faculties of MIT will probably not occur during the professional lives of our current undergraduate students. The inclusion of significant numbers of minority faculty will lag for even longer because of the underrepresentation of minority students in the pipeline.

MIT Response to the Report

In response to the findings of the study, MIT took prompt action to redress inequities stemming from gender bias. These have already resulted in highly significant progress, including an increase in the number of women faculty in the School of Science.

Accompanying the release of the report was a statement from President Charles M. Vest, who commented, "I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance." The Dean of MIT's School of Science also accepted the report's conclusion about the existence and effect of gender bias. Both President Vest and the Dean expressed their concern about addressing the more difficult root causes of the problem.

See also Council on Faculty Diversity.

Public Response to the Report

The combination of the facts of the report and the statements from MIT leadership resulted in an unanticipated level of visibility for the effort and for MIT. News of the findings reached the front pages of the Boston Globe, the New York Times and other major newspapers. The authors of the report and the administrators involved were contacted by more than forty-five newspapers, television and radio stations, and magazines. There was also a steady stream of e-mail, letters and phone calls from women professors and administrators throughout the United States. The responses were and continue to be overwhelmingly positive regarding MIT's frank admission of this fundamental, often unrecognized problem of gender bias. Collectively, the responses, however, also strongly support the view that the problem of gender bias is (a) widespread and (b) often denied in the academy.

 

Gender Equity Project (GEP): Mission and Structure

Following the School of Science study, MIT was faced with a major challenge. Many in the academic world looked to us for leadership, but our own experience was still very limited. Our challenge was to maintain our progress in the School of Science, and also to translate the initiative from that school to the other four schools at MIT. At the same time, we wanted to begin formally to help the many other institutions and individuals outside MIT who sought our advice on how to carry out similar studies.

But the women faculty from the School of Science, and a number of other women faculty in the other four schools at MIT, all had a strong sense of what needed to be done, both within and outside the Institute. So in the spring of 2000, with the generous support of the Ford Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies, the GEP was established to enable faculty women to pursue their course of action. The philanthropies' support

Goals

Internal

To add breadth and depth to MIT's examination of gender bias, extending within and beyond the School of Science to foster positive change throughout the Institute. The goal is to institutionalize a process whereby women faculty members at MIT are assured of equity and where their future marginalization is prevented.

External

To use the lessons, successes, resistances, and failures of our MIT experience to help redress gender bias issues on a larger platform. With our MIT experience as a model, we will help other universities creatively confront these issues, and consider using the Institute's approach of establishing committees focused on the equity and marginalization issues of women faculty.

 

School Equity Committees

Following the publication of the School of Science report, an equity committee was established at each of the other four schools at MIT (Architecture and Planning; Engineering; Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Sloan School of Management). These committees were modeled on the Science committee, and are composed of a tenured woman from each department, plus senior male faculty, preferably men who are or have been department heads. (All departments do not necessarily have a tenured woman.)

Mission

Equity is being measured in terms of salaries, resources for research, laboratory space, and similar metrics. Marginalization is also being assessed, as far as possible, by examining the role of women as decision-makers in their departments, particularly on search committees, as chairs of influential committees, and as directors, heads, and associate heads of departments, labs, and research centers.

Reports

The reports of the gender equity committees of all five schools at MIT are now available (http://web.mit.edu/faculty/reports/). It is expected that additional projects and initiatives will be launched at MIT as a result of the Equity Committees' reports.

 

National Initiative for Minority Women Faculty (NIMWF)

MIT is aware that the issues of gender equity cannot be separated from broader concerns about equity in higher education. In particular, we want to emphasize that gender equity includes all women, not just those from the majority group. Due to the absence of women from underrepresented minority groups in the senior ranks of the MIT faculty, the Institute has established a National Initiative for Minority Women Faculty (NIMWF). This part of the GEP is under the auspices of the MIT Center for the Study of Diversity in Science, Technology, and Medicine, directed by Professor Evelynn M. Hammonds.

Goals

  • To develop strategies to address the needs of underrepresented minority women scientists and engineers
  • To foster research opportunities for both invited scholars and the MIT community.

NIMWF Fellows

NIMWF brought to the campus a group of distinguished senior women of color in the sciences and engineering, from other research institutions, to confer with members of the GEP. This meeting was held January 18-19, 2002 (see Tech Talk http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/tt/2002/jan30/hammonds.html). From this group, we hope a few will come to MIT as research fellows, where appropriate matches can be made.

NIMWF Students

Underrepresented minority women undergraduate and graduate students will also be invited to participate in the NIMWF. Research assistantships will be available to MIT students participating in this project.

 

Outreach

 

Related MIT Organizations

Council on Faculty Diversity

MIT has established a Council on Faculty Diversity, which is chaired by the Provost. The Council (which is a rarely-used organizational structure at MIT) is empowered to do whatever it takes to bring and sustain diversity of all kinds (women and under-represented minorities) at MIT. One of the Councils's two faculty co-chairs, Prof. Nancy Hopkins, has also been named a member of MIT's Academic Council , a group that serves as the President's cabinet.

Others

See list at Administrative Centers and Offices