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Forum begins sustained conversation about ways to foster female staff's success at UC

– During a recent lunch hour, female campus staffers filled Sibley Hall to chew on a meaty topic — obstacles to women's advancement at UC Berkeley. From UC's Office of the President, Associate President Linda Williams and Presidential Staff Fellow Amy Levine facilitated the Dec. 7 forum as part of the Creating Change Initiative, a systemwide effort to develop a strategy to address the advancement of women at UC.

Since last spring, Williams and Levine, along with another UCOP administrator, Assistant Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity Sheila O'Rourke, have visited the 10 UC campuses, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Office of the President and spoken to nearly 2,100 female staff members and faculty about career development and leadership opportunities at UC. 

Levine, who directs the Center for Gender Equity at UCSF, also organizes the Women Leaders Symposium, a conference aimed at women in university settings that is held at UCSF every two years. (The next symposium will take place June 5-6, 2008.) When Williams served as the symposium's keynote speaker last year, she and Levine began exploring ways to extend the dialogue and create a structure within which some institutional changes can occur.

What's working

Forum participants pointed to the following programs:

Berkeley Staff Assembly (BSA) Mentorship Program
BSA's Mentorship Program enables career employees (Administrative Assistant III through PSS 5) to broaden their campus networks and design career paths at Berkeley. Through an informational-interview process, mentees are matched with mentors, who tend to be experienced staff from central administration, academic, or research units. Once matched, mentors and mentees meet for a year. Applications for 2008 are due in March next year.

Career Services
The campus offers a range of services to help staff develop a career plan based on interests and abilities. Human Resources and the Tang Center provide career counseling and workshops to campus staff to help in that exploration.

For additional information, contact Jarralynne Agee, Human Resources, via e-mail at training@berkeley.edu or by phone at 642-8234.

To help staff get up to speed, instructional videos are available on computer health, the campus's financial systems, budgets, performance evaluation, and a wide swath of Environmental Health and Safety topics. (CalNet ID required)

Leadership Development Program (LDP)
Staff in the professional, supervisor, or manager categories may apply, with the support of their supervisor, for this 13-month program in which participants work on teams to analyze a campus problem. In addition to receiving feedback on their leadership competencies, participants also work individually with a career counselor or professional development coach.

Management Skills Assessment Program (MSAP)
A systemwide program, MSAP uses simulated scenarios to provide new UC managers with a critique of their managerial skills. The residential program will be held at Asilomar in Monterey, April 28 to May 2, 2008.

Supervisor Development Lab (SDL)
An eight-day program, SDL provides core information, skills, and techniques to people in supervisory positions. Registration is through ICE, and the program is free.

Stepping stones to success

At the Dec. 7 event, 232 female staff members — and four men — told Williams and Levine about programs that help women move up the career ladder at Berkeley. And while Williams acknowledged that women aren't the only employees who would benefit from an improved work environment, she pointed out that "women are not moving through the pipeline at the same rate as men."

Statistics from the 2005 UCOP report, "Composition of the Career Staff Workforce by Race and Sex," make a compelling case. While 65 percent of career staff systemwide are female, 69.4 percent of senior managers are male. For women, attaining leadership positions doesn't alter gender inequities, said Levine in an interview after the forum. "Women leaders often report not wielding the same power and influence as men in comparable positions," Levine explained. While women are well-represented in middle management, they're over-represented in the administrative category, she noted.

Women at the forum shared their experiences with programs and opportunities at UC that could make a difference in those statistics. Williams and Levine hope to find the most effective programs on each of the 10 campuses and look for ways to implement them systemwide.

Elizabeth Sundstrom, currently an appointments secretary in the Chancellor's Office, is among those in the administrative ranks who shared a success story at the forum. Over the course of 22 years and four jobs at Berkeley, Sundstrom heard from two of her supervisors that she would be unable to advance without an undergraduate degree. She took those words to heart and eight years ago began working toward her B.A., which she completed this month.

"Berkeley is very supportive," said Sundstrom at the forum, elaborating the ways in which the campus afforded her the opportunity to return to school. Staff who work at least 50-percent time receive a two-thirds tuition-fee reduction, are permitted 80 hours of paid administrative leave a year to attend class (with the permission of their supervisor), and can take advantage of course-load reduction (for full-time employees). Also, Sundstrom noted, faculty went out of their way to accommodate her full-time work schedule by meeting with her outside of scheduled office hours.

Looking ahead

Williams and Levine will share what they've gleaned from their various campus visits with UC President Robert Dynes and the campuses' chancellors. Their first recommendation to Dynes will be the creation of a systemwide advisory committee on the status of women and the formation of local versions of such committees at the five campuses where they don't already exist. A representative from each campus's committee will serve on the systemwide one.

At the forum, Williams called the sustained conversation such a committee would facilitate "the most critical piece" of the initiative at this point and added, "some accountability would also be really good. The bar of expectation is quite high."

Williams and Levine will also recommend best practices that can be duplicated systemwide. "Each campus has its own culture, so something that works on one campus may not work at another one," noted Levine. "Certain things need to be looked at across all of the campuses, and childcare was consistently at the top of the list." While the forum was targeted toward women, Levine says that male staffers also will benefit if more affordable, accessible childcare is established.

Equity needs to be addressed on a number of fronts, including the consistent application of policies and practices, says Levine. "A campus like Berkeley can have outstanding professional-development courses, but if your supervisor won't allow you access, it doesn't matter. When we talked about best practices, some women said, 'I am so blessed. My supervisor is so supportive. I've been given stretch assignments and done professional development, and I now have a new position.' Others would stand up and say, 'I don't even want my supervisor to know that I'm here today.'"

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