Higher ed institutions play a critical role in driving gender equity within the workplace and leadership positions, say a global leaders working in UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to the global empowerment of women.
Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. and Georgetown University President John DeGioia were two of the ten heads of colleges and universities from across the globe who took part in the HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 initiative, which brought together leaders from government, business and higher education to develop plans for making gender equality a foundational aspect of their respective institutions.
The HeForShe movement was created in September 2014 and hopes to commit one billion men toward promoting gender equity. President Stanley was one of several speakers at the HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 Parity Report Launch Event held in New York City this week, which occurred during a meeting of the UN General Assembly; he later spoke with Education Dive about the organization and his university’s own approaches toward improving gender parity
Data shows that women are still highly underrepresented
“It’s the combination of universities, companies and nation-states working together,” he said. “I see more cross-fertilization happening.”
In a variety of fields and leadership positions, there is evidence that gender equality is not increasing, and in some cases, the rates have actually slowed or receded. According to a 2016 report conducted by the Center for Women in Information Technology, women made up 25% of employees in computer-related professions in 2015, with even less women of color. The percentage of computing jobs held by women had actually declined in the previous 25 years, according to the report; in 1991, 36% of computing jobs were held by women, indicating an 11% drop.
And in terms of leadership at the largest corporations, less than 5% of the chief executives are women, and that statistic is less than 20% of directors at S&P 500 companies, according to the Washington Post. Women also face disadvantages earlier in their career, with the Post noting that for every 130 men who are promoted from entry-level to manager positions in companies, only 100 women are promoted.
And when it comes to the college presidency, the percentages are not positive either; about 30% of presidents in 2016 were women, less than a 4% increase occurred from five years before. According to Inside Higher Ed, the speed at which that gap is closing has significantly decreased in recent years.
Partnerships across higher ed, workforce and government needed to drive equity
The HeForShe initiative was created to encourage male allies in gender equality, and the organization released a set of commitments they hoped the ten university presidents would initiate at their own institutions. For instance, HeForShe suggested the schools institute “mandatory gender sensitization programmes for first-year students” to help create secure environments on campuses and mobilize their own respective HeForShe movements.
Stanley details numerous initiatives undertaken at Stony Brook, including a push to increase the representation of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Faculty and graduate students have worked with local middle and high schools to establish pathways to STEM postsecondary education for interested students, and the school has worked to change the composition of its classes. Today, one in four students enrolled in the engineering school are women, compared to one in six in 2009. Stanley said there is more work to do but the statistic indicated progress had been made.
“All those things are the way we’re approaching it, because it’s a tremendous waste of potential,” he said. “Women at Stony Brook graduate at a higher rate than men, so we’re missing opportunities to produce more engineers by not getting more women interested in STEM.”
Stanley mentions a number of programs that offer mentorship opportunities for female faculty members and graduate students, with one program touting an 89% retention rate for students remaining in the STEM fields; the school has also worked to hire more female faculty members as well. While alumni can also offer mentorship opportunities, Stanley says it's vital for corporations and private industry to buy into the need for gender parity in order to see significant changes in the workplace. He points out the work of PricewaterhouseCoopers, whose leaders had committed to trying to achieve a 50/50 gender split in their executive suite.
“It takes leadership from the top, from the CEOs of those companies, to make gender equity a priority,” he said. “If they do that, they’ll find that the company culture can change.”
The HeForShe campaign also suggests additional actions that interested universities can take, including a campus launch with a speech by the president calling for men to become more involved in the fight for gender equity and developing policies that ensure students feel secure and safe on campus. Schools can also promote and encourage male faculty and staff to support the HeForShe campaign, potentially targeting departments or areas where there is a lack of gender parity.
Though, Stanley says it could be difficult to scale the mentorship opportunities between successful alumni and current students, because the commitment could potentially be time-consuming for executives or business leaders who already have tight schedules. Still he hopes to further engage the school’s approximately 400,000 alumni to help with securing more mentorship and internship opportunities for female students, suggesting that recent alumni who may not yet feel secure in supporting the school financially could “give back” through offering their time and experience as a student mentor.
“When I look at the numbers at Stony Brook, we’ve made progress, but there’s no reason why only one in four women should be engineering students,” Stanley said about the work the university had done since joining the HeForShe initiative in 2014. “The countries that are going to be doing this more will be the leaders of the future…for our own good, we need to pursue this.”