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Gauging Campus Climate

A team of faculty associated with the Center for Women & Work has been keenly interested in better understanding the particular challenges that faculty women in our STEM departments have encountered during their time at UMass Lowell.  Over the last several years, you and other women UMass Lowell faculty have provided feedback about your specific experiences, needs, and desires to help better understand the issues.  We are writing to provide you with a summary of what we have heard, what we have tried to do as a result, and what we are working on for the future. 

We also want to extend our gratitude for the time that you have given us, the stories that you have shared, and the patience that you have shown in waiting to see change.  As you might imagine, we too are eager for our university to transform into a uniquely supportive place for women in your fields.

What We Heard

Over the past several years, we have met with many of you for informal discussions as well as for interviews and focus groups; we have also asked you to complete surveys at a few points in time. Some of the issues raised are unique to women; some are experienced by both women and men.  A few tables are attached that summarize some survey results as well.

The main concerns that we heard include:

  • Feeling invisible and/or not valued:
    • Lack of women faculty in general; being the only or just one of a few within a department
    • A “boys club” feel within departments
    • Lack of access to mentoring that incorporates an understanding of issues facing women
  • Daily interactions that marginalize (& reduce women’s access to important resources)
    • Sexist comments among other faculty and students
    • Few informal conversations where other faculty ask about women’s work/research
    • Comments about how women look, e.g., how young, pretty, nicely dressed
    • Biases in discussions within hiring committees
    • Male graduate students reluctant to work with women faculty
  • Lack of clarity about expectations
    • Unclear process for annual reviews; not sure the policy about reviews is being followed
    • Lack of access to mentoring from senior/mid-career women
    • Can lower women’s confidence when deciding on applications for promotion
    • Sense of differential standards for success, i.e., feeling like women have to accomplish twice that of men in research and grant writing to be considered successful by peers
  • Inequity in demands experienced by women vs. men across departments and colleges, e.g., around such issues as:
    • teaching loads
    • committee and other service work
    • expectations to fulfill mentoring roles for students and for more junior faculty
  • Work-Life balance issues:
    • Lack of information about parental leave policies (who can use, when, how, etc.)
    • Absence of day care supports; lack of information about what supports exist
    • Juggling research and teaching; departments put a higher emphasis on research  but teaching demands remain all consuming (for both men and women)

Your Recommendations

  • Recruitment and promotion efforts:
    • More university-initiated, purposefully efforts to recruit women undergraduate and graduate students into STEM disciplines
    • Enhanced, proactive commitment to hiring women as tenure-track STEM faculty
    • Recruit senior women faculty in STEM fields
    • Cultivate more current women in leadership roles (e.g., department chairs, hiring committees)
  • Training and workshops:
    • More workshops/speaker series for women re: tenure and promotion
    • More workshops/speakers series on professional development strategies, e.g., how to construct a productive research agenda and how to allocate time efficiently between teaching vs research
  • Transparent feedback systems for both tenure-track and tenured faculty
    • Systematic, timely, and formal evaluation to help better prepare faculty for tenure application
    • Implement additional feedback/coaching systems for tenured faculty
  • Work-life balance supports
    • Make procedures and policies more transparent (e.g., implementation of parental leave policies)
    • Add more flexibility around tenure clock
    • Increase access to resources for child and elder-care
    • Work to reduce unrealistic expectations for faculty with children (e.g., early or late day meetings); reduce guilt due to unrealistic demands of family and work
  • Enhance access to mentoring
    • Develop a formal mentoring system for junior faculty; but also be aware of dissatisfaction that can accompany assignment of mentor-mentee pairs
    • More women-focused networking, consulting, industry partners etc.
    • A cross-campus club for women faculty to facilitate conversations and collaborations
    • More opportunities/spaces for women to network throughout the University
  • Addressing inequities directly, e.g.,
    • Monitor the teaching load differences for women and men faculty
    • Address any differences in service expectations
  • Cultural shifts:
    • Help all faculty better understand the experiences of women in male-dominated fields
    • Create expectations for friendly, collaborative, and supportive research environments
    • Work to increase opportunities for recognition from peers, e.g., awards from dept. or college

What Has Been Done

Several new programs have been initiated that aim to address concerns that you shared with us:
  • Orientation groups
  • 50/50 lecture series
  • Enlightened bytes seminars
  • Dissemination of the parental leave policies
  • Development of a way to measure and track subtle biases encountered by women STEM faculty called the Subtle Gender Bias Index (an NSF-funded project that is now entering its third year)
  • Application for an NSF ADVANCE grant to fund institutional transformation initiatives (2013 grant was unsuccessful; plans already underway to resubmit)