Although this year’s Status Report on Women at Ohio State highlighted the lack of female leaders and low levels of women of color present in faculty, several initiatives are in place to increase the diversity of the university’s employees.
Many take place under the wing of The Women’s Place; Gender Initiatives in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine; and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“We are interested in getting more diversity into the leadership levels of the university, and, in all fairness, I think the university is interested in that, too,” said Hazel Morrow-Jones, director of The Women’s Place. “Sometimes it’s a question of how — not being clear exactly how to go about some things, how to make changes in a system that’s pretty entrenched.”
The Women’s Place is an office at OSU that “serves as a catalyst for institutional change to expand opportunities for women’s growth, leadership and power in an inclusive, supportive and safe university environment,” according to its website.
Gender Initiatives in STEMM exists under the Office of Research and aims to “facilitate the recruitment, retention and advancement of women faculty members from diverse populations in STEMM disciplines,” according to its website.
In the eyes of Mary Juhas, associate vice president of Gender Initiatives in STEMM, its mission is simple. “We build women research leaders,” she said.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, is “home to a wide range of retention, mentoring, scholarship and access programs,” according to its website.
Yolanda Zepeda, assistant provost of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said the office was originally focused on student diversity and has shifted its focus to include that of faculty in recent years.
Educating search committees
Each office holds workshops for Discovery Theme search committees.
Launched in 2012, the Discovery Themes target health and wellness, energy and environment, and food production and food security. OSU plans to bring in 500 tenured or tenure-track faculty over the next 10 years as part of the initiative, costing about $100 million.
The Women’s Place, Gender Initiatives in STEMM and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion together form the Search Committee Action Team. That team aims to teach best practices of running a search in order to reduce committee-member biases and increase diversity in applicant pools, according to the Status Report on Women.
The team has been using participants’ feedback to adjust the workshops as they’ve gone on, Zepeda said.
“One of the things I noticed in the beginning was that some of the participants sort of felt like they were being punished or you know, ‘why do I have to do this,’ ‘I’m so busy, what does this have to do with what I’m doing,’” Zepeda said.
That’s pretty much disappeared now, and it’s become more normal, Zepeda said.
“People have gotten on board, and people seem to be embracing it,” she said.
The workshops encourage search-committee members to have a serious conversation about what they are looking for in a candidate — like defining what “excellence” really means — before reviewing job applicants, Morrow-Jones said.
“If you can get people to really talk out what it is they exactly mean, that helps you avoid the thing where you get a candidate on the table where they just don’t feel right,” she said.
This helps avoid personal bias that a member might feel about a candidate who does not fit his or her personal idea of a leader or who is different from him or her.
“I think our own departments in the search committees are recognizing that if we just proceed with business as usual, the way we’ve always done it, it’s not that we’re just going to stagnate. We’re actually going to fall behind,” Zepeda said.
“I’m now seeing search committees beyond the Discovery Themes are coming in and participating in the workshop, too, because they see it is benefiting everyone.”
The President and Provost Leadership Institute is a training ground for academic leaders is run through The Women’s Place, Morrow-Jones said.
Deans nominate faculty for the 18-month-long program that includes reading books, attending workshops, listening to speakers, having luncheons and going to a two-day culture retreat, Morrow-Jones said.
Nominated individuals show “real leadership potential and interest” — someone a dean or director might turn to when leadership positions become open, according to the nomination guidelines.
“The candidate does not pay for it. The dean finds a way to pay for it, and even then it is subsidized by the Office of Academic Affairs,” she said.
The dean pays about $2,700 but the actual costs are about $4,800, Morrow-Jones said.
About 15 percent of the program’s participants are men, Morrow-Jones added.
Individuals who have gone through the program include Susan Williams, who is now vice provost for academic affairs, and Christopher Hadad, divisional dean of mathematical and natural sciences.
“The idea is really training enlightened leadership, and a lot of the work is around understanding yourself, doing a lot of self-assessments, and because you’re in a cohort of people that you develop a lot of trust with, as you do these assessments, you can talk to each other,” Morrow-Jones said. “You can really have those kind of conversations that you can’t have out there in normal life.”
Diversity in STEMM
Project REACH, a signature program under Gender Initiatives in STEMM, is in the midst of its third on-campus cohort, which contains 19 female inventors, Juhas said.
It aims to help women faculty reach their entrepreneurial capacity.
“What we know is that women invent at the same rate as men. They tend not to commercialize at the same rate as men for all the wrong reasons,” Juhas said.
The program aims to help women find their strengths and give them the confidence to continue on in their business ventures, Juhas said.
Although an inventor’s request for funding is likely to be denied regardless of gender, women are more likely to feel they have failed, and that it isn’t right, she said.
“What the women don’t realize is that when they don’t fund you, you learn from your mistakes because they give you feedback and you hone that pitch for the next time you walk in,” Juhas said.
Gender Initiatives in STEMM also supports dual career hiring: hiring spouses.
A lot of faculty recruits come in pairs, Juhas said. Additionally, even if a recruit’s spouse is not looking for a second faculty position — for example, if they are a banker or a lawyer — the university might still be interested in hiring that person for jobs outside of academia, Juhas said.
“It’s better business if you hire the family and make them happy, then they won’t be a flight risk,” she said.
Hiring spouses can be beneficial for the employer, OSU in this case, as well as the recruits themselves, Juhas said.
“Once we decide that we want to hire a person, then we get into conversations about ‘tell us more about how we can make this hiring experience the best and the most successful’ and that’s when they talk about their family,” she said. “We really need to hire families because we can’t just hire a brain in a box.”
Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion exists to “foster the development of women of color as leaders in the classroom, on campus, and in their surrounding communities,” according to its website.
The initiative holds an annual panel discussion, Colorful Conversations, focused on a different theme every year, Zepeda said.
“We bring together students and faculty and women leaders in the community (at that event),” she said.
There also is a community for men of color, as well as individuals in the Latino and Latin American community.
Because there are small percentages of black and Hispanic faculty members at such a large university, “it’s hard to find each other when you’re scattered — you have one person here and one person there,” Zepeda said.
“These kinds of activities, these kinds of programs bring people from across the campus together around issues that are really compelling and help them build those connections.”
This is the second of a two-part series on gender at Ohio State. The first part ran in Monday’s print issue of The Lantern and is published online.