8 No. 1
Equity in the Hard Sciences at Emory
in the hard science faculty ranks at Emory
sciences faculty by gender at other institutions
happening along the way? Why aren't women choosing academia proportionately,
and why aren't women staying in academia?"
think the 'nature versus nurture' question is not meaningful, because
it treats them as independent factors, whereas in fact everything
is nature and nurture."
Crisis in the Humanities
So what else is new?
Away the Dust of Everyday Life
and the Emory Experience
Diary and the Map
and Foucault on making sense of history
death, money and chemistry in the Carlos Museum
Academic Exchange: What were your reactions
to the remarks made by Lawrence Summers about why women are underrepresented
in science academia?
Susan Gilbert: I have an interesting connection
to Larry Summers, so my initial reaction was keen interest. As a
graduate student at Penn, I was well acquainted with his parents.
His mother was my mentor, and his father helped convince me to go
to Penn for my Ph.D. I clearly recall talking to Anita Summers about
the conundrum of career versus family for young women. She told
me the smartest thing she ever did was take ten years off the career
track to raise her kids. She advised me to do the same, and not
give up a family to have a career.
more interesting question is whether most of us will have the same
kinds of opportunities at age thirty-six that we may have had at
twenty-six to pursue satisfying careers, particularly in academia.
It is apparent that academic careers pose a challenge for women.
Roughly half or more of Emory students are women, and one-third
of faculty are women—more if we include the non-tenure-track
faculty—yet only 16 percent of full professors are women.
These statistics are consistent with national data. What’s
happening along the way? Why aren’t women choosing academia
proportionately, and why aren’t women succeeding or staying
in academia as measured by certain success factors, which is of
course promotion along the tenure track?
AE: Did Summers actually do a favor for women
by focusing attention on important issues?
SG: Perhaps unwittingly. I think the issue is something
that needs to be examined, and I think that one of the most important
ideas is of family-friendly colleges. I think this is about community
and diversity within the university, and about providing role models.
I don’t think it’s as much about advancing the careers
of individual faculty as it is about serving as an inspiration to
our students. They should feel that any career is open to them.
If they see there are no women in some classrooms, or that women
don’t lead departments or centers, they may perceive a hurdle
that shouldn’t be there. I don’t think there’s
discrimination, but I want to open the doors to more possibility
for women students.
AE: What are your thoughts on that?
SG: The up-or-out career track is very tough for
women. You’re asked to be at your most productive professionally
during prime childbearing ages. In many professional careers—for
example, law, consulting, medicine—women are faced with similar
decisions: whether to have a family, whether to postpone it, or
whether to postpone the career.
What steps can be taken to make it easier for women to make these
SG: There ought to be a way to pursue careers so
the activity and promotion can occur after a family is started,
or allow for discontinuity in your career to facilitate raising
a family. A study commissioned by the American Council on Education
and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation recommended a number of
initiatives aimed at enhancing the flexibility of academic careers:
lengthening the tenure track, allowing faculty members to work part-time
for up to five years, granting multi-year leaves for professors,
and creating postdoc jobs for people who want to step down from
academia but still be involved in research.
AE: What is the President’s
Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) specifically concerned
about at Emory?
SG: We’ve spent the last two years focused
on raising awareness regarding women in leadership positions at
Emory. Rosemary Magee recently joined the president’s cabinet
[as secretary of the university], and we are certainly delighted
about that appointment. However, we certainly would like to see
more women filling senior leadership roles across the university,
as deans, trustees, department chairs, and so forth.
the PCSW received funding from the president to send two women per
year to leadership academies specifically focused on higher education.
And we ended our last academic year with a Women in Leadership Dinner
to celebrate the women who hold senior leadership positions at Emory
(including women trustees) and brainstorm about how to increase
the numbers of women role models for the
younger generations that we educate here. As we move forward I’d
like to think that many people will have contributed to progress
in this area—including President Wagner and Provost Lewis,
women who hold leadership positions at Emory and elsewhere, the
pcsw, and many others—and maybe even Larry Summers, as well.