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Council created to further gender equity at U.Va.
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Council created to further gender equity at U.Va.

By Nancy Hurrelbrinck

President John T. Casteen III announced last week the creation of a new University committee, the Women's Leadership Council, to examine and address matters involving women in leadership roles, in education and in the University community generally.

Proposed by the 1999 Task Force on the Status of Women, the new council will both advise the president and monitor institutional compliance with a variety of state and University equal opportunity policies. Members will be appointed this spring, with the task force members serving on an interim basis until formal appointments are made.

The task force was charged with assessing the University's progress in recent years with regard to women and recommending a plan for addressing current issues. The group's wide-ranging "Report on Gender Equity at the University of Virginia" includes recommendations to place more women in positions of leadership, to institute mentoring and professional development programs and to ensure salary equity.

"Our goal is to open a conversation with the whole university, and especially with its leadership, about the culture of this place and the experience of people here who may not feel entirely at home, such as women and people of color," said task force member and co-director of the Humanities in Medicine program Marcia Day Childress, adding that the Faculty Senate will host a forum on gender climate on April 24.

That conversation actually began last November, when Provost Peter W. Low charged the deans with addressing gender issues in their units. Deans' annual reports and performance reviews will now include assessment of progress within their respective areas to improve the gender and racial climate, to insure equal opportunity in hiring and to retain women and minority faculty once they are hired.

Reflecting the overlap between the history of women's and minorities' issues at U.Va., President Casteen mentioned the report at the recent conference on diversity as a example of giving "serious analytical attention to the mechanics of inclusion (see "Charting Diversity"). He quoted the report's finding that "gender inequity in the university setting is subtle yet pervasive, grounded in socialized, largely unexamined ways of thinking and acting that are manifested in all of us, women and men, and perpetuated out of habit and lack of awareness.

"I am grateful for the task force's thoughtful and reasonable assessment of our progress and our needs for continuous improvement," he said. "With the formation of the Women's Leadership Council, we will seek to strengthen opportunities for women - a direction that ultimately promises a stronger University community for everyone."

The report states that the resistant institutional environment for women at U.Va., described as a "chilly climate," wastes the talents of women as teachers, leaders and researchers, as well as discourages women students by providing too few role models and mentors and by undervaluing women staff by underpaying their work.

One way to improve the climate is to place more women in leadership positions. The report sets a goal of having the administrative, faculty and student leadership be as diverse as the population it serves by the year 2010, stating that women must be more prominent, in terms of numbers and positions.

"While our student body now reflects well the rich diversity of the American population, our faculty and leadership do not," the report points out.

According to University statistics, men continue to outnumber women in a number of areas:

  • of 285 administrative positions (that includes, among others, vice presidents, associate vice presidents and academic deans), 208 are held by men, 77 by women;

  • of 1,817 instructional/research positions, 1,327 are held by men, 490 by women. Clerical positions, however, show a different story. Of 1,808 clerical positions, 158 are held by men and 1,650 by women. The report's recommendations for improving the gender climate are divided among three areas: leadership, education and work/life issues. Several suggestions from each area include:


  • issuing annual reports on U.Va.'s progress toward gender equity;

  • loaning faculty positions to departments to promote the hiring of women and minorities; and

  • requiring vice presidents, deans and department heads to attend training sessions regarding hiring/retention, salary equity, sexual harrassment and climate issues.


  • instituting mentoring programs for women across the University;

  • offering on- and off-site professional development programs for women faculty and staff;

  • resurrecting the Presidential Fellows program and expanding the Administrative Internship program; and

  • funding programs and activities that support young women's leadership.


  • assuring equity in salary and promotional opportunity for all faculty and staff;

  • directing deans and department chairs to develop mechanisms for ensuring gender equity in salary, climate and representation; and

  • creating more equitable work/life arrangements by making available 12 weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave, improving University-based day care, and developing strategies for facilitating job placement for partners of faculty and staff.

The full text of the report can be found at http://www.virginia.edu/topnews. equity.html.


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