Faculty members work to bring women closer

The Women's Initiative report, released Sept. 23, stressed the lack of respect and comfort on campus for many female professors, employees and the LGBT community. Committee task force members say responses to these concerns will come in a variety of forms, from direct administrative policy reforms to more nebulous changes like altering conceptions of gender on campus.

A major concern was a sense of isolation among female faculty. Professor of Psychology and Executive Committee Chair Susan Roth stressed the need to encourage networking across departments.

"It has to be a grassroots effort from the faculty," Roth said. "Doing the report has already had an effect and has called attention to the need for women to network."

Dr. Ann Brown, director of the academic program for women's health and a member of the faculty task force, said informal conversation and the obligations of parenting further contributed to isolation among female faculty members.

"When you're running home to pick your kid up, you may be left out of after-hours discussion which may lead to isolation," she said.

She suggested that having clear avenues in place for people to talk about such day-to-day issues was an important first step in addressing isolation.

Additionally, the report expressed a need for recognition of extroardinary service on the part of tenured female faculty.

Brown said that women on the whole make less of their accomplishments than men, and should not be overlooked simply because thier achievements are less publicized.

"We need to make sure that... [the search committee is] fair and not just picking up the people who make a name for themselves," she said.

Roth mentioned a plan for advising female faculty members in many aspects of their careers, not just regarding achievements. "We want to addres this by focusing on the whole mentoring process for assistant and junior faculty members," Roth said. She envisioned a program where female faculty are taught how to advance professionally--for example, by looking at other job offers.

The initiative found that many female employees have experienced disrespect and feel a sense of invisibility on campus.

Dr. John Payne, a professor at the Fuqua School of Business and a steering committee member, said they discussed creating "a guide to managing at Duke," which will have a section on respect and encouraging the Office of Institutional Equity to increase its administrative presence.

Susan Mclean, senior associate COO of hospital administration and steering committee member, saw disparities in how female employees are treated in different areas on campus. She said the main issue at the Medical Center was mutual respect for women and the feeling of being equal members of the team. Under conditions where "doctors give orders and nurses take orders," she said female staff and clerical staff do not feel respected by their male counterparts, and that there were concerns about how male physicians were treating female physicians and staff.

However, she also said that there were several areas of employee concerns, such as flexible hours and a new plan for recruitment and retention, in which the Medical Center was ahead of the University.

"We've been working on our developmental planning for the past few years," Mclean said.

Efforts to improve respect and comfort for the LGBT community are a priority as well.

Students Administrators and Faculty for Equality, a program initiated in Jan. 2001, works to create a safer and more supportive environment for LGBT students, faculty and staff. The SAFE on campus assessment report stated that becoming a SAFE member resulted in 39 and 61 percent increases in comfort with LGBT issues for men and women, respectively.


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