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Turning things around
How engineering increased its number of female faculty

| 6 February 2003

Associate professor of electrical engineering Tsu-Jae King, left, is one of a growing number of women hired by the College of Engineering in recent years. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

When Professor Alice Agogino first joined the College of Engineering faculty in 1984, she was an anomaly: a female in an overwhelmingly male department and college. But that was as expected; she had long since resigned herself to the fact that female mechanical engineers, like herself, were few and far between.

It was only later — because of her young daughter — that she began to question faculty hiring practices that helped perpetuate the isolation of women in her field. "I wanted things to be different for her, should she decide to become a professor when she grows up," Agogino says.

A first step was to bring women faculty together to talk about their experiences in the college. "I heard some real horror stories about discrimination in the hiring process," Agogino says of the group’s initial meetings. "Some incidents were pretty blatant, while others were more subtle."

Spurred on by the accounts they shared, the women engineers went on a fact-finding mission, to see if the data supported their experiences. Among the startling statistics they uncovered: of the 39 new faculty hired between 1996 and 2000, 37 were men and only 2 were women.

Read more stories from the Berkeleyan's Faculty Diversity package

"Faculty diversity — The road ahead": Q&A with Angelica Stacy

"The Past Decade at a Glance": Tenure track hires and faculty composition over the years

"What's in Motion": Activism supporting diversity

"Cluster Hiring May Be a Boon to Minority Scholars"

Still, many believed these numbers could be explained by a small number of women in the pool of PhD students from which faculty are hired. What they discovered, however, was that while the percentage of female engineering graduates was in fact on the rise, women PhDs were choosing not to apply for faculty positions at Berkeley and its peers.

Turning things around, it developed, would require changes in the college’s recruitment, interview, and hiring procedures, as well as in its cultural climate. As an example of the latter, 50 photos of retired engineering professors — all white and male — lined one wall of a heavily used seminar room in Etcheverry Hall. These have been removed, so that female and minority faculty and students don’t feel alienated.

The committee also developed guidelines designed to promote faculty gender equity. Among them were:

  • Criteria listed in job descriptions should be broad enough in scope to encourage a diverse applicant pool;
  • At least one woman should serve on each search committee;
  • Search committees should consider a range of academic indicators of excellence and place an emphasis on junior faculty;
  • Before, during, and after job interviews, the departmental chair and faculty affirmative-action officer should monitor search committee progress and procedures to ensure fair methods are being used;.
  • Female faculty should be given leadership roles and paths leading to advancement for women faculty should be established. These opportunities should be publicized, so that current students and prospective candidates are aware of the college’s commitment to gender equity;
  • The importance of fair-hiring practices and faculty gender equity should be widely communicated to faculty and administrators.

The college’s administration and faculty have embraced these recommendations, says Agogino — and as a result, the percentage of women hired in the past two years has been even greater than the proportion of women in the PhD pool.

David Auslander, acting dean of engineering, says faculty equity is a priority for his office — one he continually passes on to departmental chairs and faculty. "Mandating fairness isn’t enough," he says. "What senior administrators and departmental chairs must also do is lead by example, so that other faculty see that we are committed to being more representative of the general population."

Bringing different perspectives and ideas to the table "results in a better product," he believes. "And the sooner that faculty and administrators accept that, the sooner we’ll have more equity among our ranks."

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