Female faculty faces challenges despite increase in UC Berkeley gender diversity

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Gender diversity in campus faculty has been increasing over the past 40 years, but many women still face challenges with recognition and access to opportunities.

Women make up 34% of the campus tenure-track faculty, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. She added that, as of 2019, 391 women have tenure, 256 of whom are full professors, out of the more than 1,500 ladder-rank faculty members. Last year, 53.6% of newly hired tenured and tenure-track faculty members were women, exceeding the percentage who were men for the first time in campus history.

“It’s always a more comfortable environment when you’re not the only person in the room that represents your demographics,” said Catherine Cronquist Browning, assistant dean of academic programs and of equity and inclusion at the School of Information. “When female faculty are the only one, there’s a lot more fear, and it can be very real. It creates this feeling of burden that you need to speak for everyone.”

When Chancellor Carol Christ joined the faculty in 1970, only 3% of the faculty members were female, according to Gilmore. Since she joined, the percentage of women has steadily increased.

Research has shown that when women are in positions of authority, they tend to bring more women into the workplace, according to Elizabeth Resor, a graduate student in the School of Information.

Many people want to become professors to guarantee job security, Resor said. There are many requirements to fulfill, however, before a tenure review, which may include sufficient research and published works, according to Gilmore.

Formal requirements can reinforce gender biases in academia, especially for women who care for a child or have other responsibilities at home, according to Cronquist Browning.

Female faculty members are also more likely to pick up service roles, meaning they are often unavailable when roles chairing research task forces open, according to Cronquist Browning. As a result, the male colleagues are favored to make contact with groups and get research grants.

“When you’re a female in a traditional tenure-track academic role, there are a lot of things you’re asked to do in terms of service, but none of those things count on your tenure application,” Cronquist Browning said. “If you’re someone who is trying to go above and beyond, contributing to your department, a lot of time can be filtered away from you by saying these things don’t count.”

Sarah Manchanda, a graduate student in the Graduate School of Education, said students are not guaranteed funding for research during their time in the Graduate School of Education. In the past, she alleged, disproportionate allocations of funds went to men instead of women, which was a “huge issue” because without the proper funding, students struggled to conduct sufficient research.

Gauthami Penakalapati, project director of the Graduate Assembly’s Graduate Women’s Project, said women — especially women of color — bear the brunt of emotional work because students feel more comfortable seeking advice from them. She added that this causes “time poverty,” as they are also teaching, researching and mentoring students in line with their male faculty peers.

There is an unconscious social expectation that comes from students, colleagues and female faculty that women are more compassionate and approachable, according to Cronquist Browning. If a woman teaches the same core class as a male professor, she is more likely to have students attend office hours talking about issues in their academic or personal lives.

“I think in an ideal world, students would feel like they can talk to anyone regardless of their background. Any faculty member or GSI would be willing to talk and consider it part of their job to talk to students,” Resor said. “It’s not about having more diverse faculty to handle these issues — it’s having more faculty to respond to diverse challenges.”

Having a diverse faculty also impacts what research is being done, according to Manchanda. She added that professors who come from diverse backgrounds view the world through different lenses.

When students see themselves represented in campus faculty, they are more encouraged to approach them, according to Resor. For example, she added, women feel more comfortable talking to female professors about challenges including sexism. Students want mentors who can help them with addressing problems the mentors themselves have also experienced, according to Resor.

“You want more diversity in the faculty because you want more diversity in the students. Representation matters,” Resor said. “Your position in life impacts how you see the world and how you choose to frame your research. More representation means more relevant research for everyone, and it trickles down to good teaching.”

Contact Maria Young at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.