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Starting with the man in the mirror: Male faculty work with CEWiT to understand gender equity

Oct 2, 2017

A woman is repeatedly interrupted by a male colleague during a departmental meeting. A department head frequently schedules meetings at the beginning or end of the day, a time that’s difficult for employees with family obligations. A group of colleagues regularly meet for coffee but have never invited the only woman in the office to join them.

Scenarios like these are familiar to many women, including Maureen Biggers, director of CEWiT, the Center of Excellence for Women in Technology at Indiana University.

Mauren Biggers and Tom James talking at CEWiT's office.
Center of Excellence for Women in Technology director Maureen Biggers and professor Tom James, members of the Advocates & Allies for Equity Advisory Council, share a vision of a more equitable campus.Photo by Emily Sterneman

“If you hear women talk about micro-inequities, it’s like a thousand little paper cuts – after a while, they’ve just had it,” she said. “Some don’t feel the paper cuts and some feel them a lot.”

Armed with a goal of increasing awareness of gender inequities in the academic world, as well as a desire to assist male faculty looking for guidance, Biggers brought the Advocates & Allies for Equity program to IU Bloomington, where women represent 40 percent of full-time faculty.

Creating culture change

The program, developed at North Dakota State University, was created through a National Science Foundation grant to improve gender equity through direct engagement of male faculty. The NDSU initiative defines advocates as “[male] faculty who educate themselves about issues of gender [in]equity,” and allies as “male faculty trained as proponents for gender equity in their departments.”

With the support of IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel, Eliza Pavalko, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, and Stephanie Li, associate vice provost for faculty development and diversity, CEWiT held its first Allies for Gender Equity workshop in mid-September with a capacity crowd.

“It takes support and engagement from many sources to change a culture,” Robel said. “CEWiT’s Advocates & Allies for Equity program is designed to be one of those change agents. We are fortunate to have so many male faculty on this campus who are stepping up to learn how to be champions for women in the field.”

“We had a great turnout,” said Tom James, professor of psychological and brain sciences and advocate chair. “Across all units of the campus, tenure track, non-tenure track, it was pretty remarkable.” And that faculty enthusiasm is translating into further engagement, with many attendees asking how to be more involved with the program.

For men, by men? Not exactly.

Viewed from the outside, a workshop facilitated by men and attended by men to address gender inequities might seem like a contradiction in terms. But several of the advocates emphasized that their goal is to educate themselves in order to educate others. For Rob Potter, an advocate and professor of communication science, the program provides an opportunity to examine a different perspective.

“What’s the female experience? What’s the male advocate’s experience when they try to advocate? What’s the pushback they’re getting?” he said. “I think about how I would respond to that kind of pushback.”

According to James, the advocates’ education began long before hosting their first workshop, with a readjustment of their initial objectives.

Tom James and Rob Potter chat at a coffee shop.
Tom James and fellow advocate Rob Potter’s weekly coffee discussions have expanded from football and curriculum to gender inequities and campus culture.Photo by Emily Sterneman

“One objective was, we’re going to run these workshops to teach other men what they need to know,” he said. Through meetings and discussions, the advocates came to a new realization.

“The workshops are just one part; we’re teaching ourselves as much as we can,” James said. “It’s not ‘here are some [men] that already know it all and we’re informing others.’ It’s ‘grow the group and learn and learn and learn.’”

In addition to their meetings, the advocates check in regularly with the Advocates & Allies Advisory Council, a primarily female group of faculty members who provide oversight for the program and access to current research that’s relevant to the advocates’ goals. For Biggers, the Advisory Council serves as a necessary balance for the program.

“Three of the advocates are in the advisory group, so there’s direct connection,” she said. “They can ask advice, they can present what they’re doing, and they can ask for feedback.”

Small changes, big impact

Among the advocates, there is a definite excitement about creating meaningful change in the academic culture. David Daleke, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and vice provost for graduate education and health sciences, is an advocate and member of the Advisory Council. Not surprisingly, he’s invested in the program’s effect on the graduate student community.

“We want to train [students] to foster the assumption of gender equity and the elimination of the implicit biases that are developed as people learn to be faculty members,” Daleke said. “As we train graduate students to be faculty or professionals in other fields, they will then pass on their attitudes and their sense of what proper culture is for that environment.”

James points out that addressing gender inequity can begin on a personal level.

David Daleke
Advocate and Advisory Council member David Daleke hopes the program creates an ongoing cycle of change among graduate students moving on to professional life.Photo by Emily Sterneman

“People might think the only way to change is through policy changes at the administrative level,” he said. “These workshops make it very clear that it’s not just policies that need to be made; there needs to be a systemic change in the academic climate. Everybody can do little things to help with that.”

Biggers is confident that the Advocates & Allies for Equity program will be an invaluable tool to increase male faculty’s awareness of inequities in campus culture.

“But it’s not just increased awareness, it’s increased awareness and then giving them tools to help interrupt these micro-inequities,” she said. “It’s about creating equitable climates, regardless of who it’s equitable for. If you have that, then women are going to benefit in ways that they haven’t been benefiting, in their perceptions.”

Learn more and get involved:

  • Become a CEWiT affiliate
  • Check out Advocates & Allies for Equity resources
  • Meet the inaugural IU advocates
  • Make plans to attend the next allies workshop Nov. 14

Jen Bratton is a writer and editor for Indiana University IT Communications.


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