Hopkins Endorses Gender Parity

University commits to 50% representation in professoriate and among executive leadership by 2020.
November 21, 2006

A recent study, three years in the making, finds that Johns Hopkins University continues to lag behind comparable research institutions in recruiting and hiring female faculty and executive leaders. The Hopkins committee releasing the report has recommended and the university has endorsed that the institution achieve 50 percent representation of women in senior faculty and leadership positions by 2020.

The report also calls for the university to make women’s concerns a top priority and points out the need to provide more work-life balance for faculty members.

Provost Steven Knapp said that women comprise two of the university’s five vice presidents and only two of the eight academic deans. Further, the report found that women made up 51 percent of the student body but only 36 percent of full-time faculty in 2005. Female full professors comprised only 18 percent of the faculty (2005 numbers) and 15 percent of department heads (2003). The university is dedicated to meet the report’s goals, but Knapp said that it would be easier to move women into leadership roles, which frequently turn over, than into faculty jobs. “I have to say that this is an aspiration but there is a rate limiting factor for parity when you look at [faculty] turnover,” he said.

Knapp said that one of the major problems with hiring women in the past, few qualified women to fill a position, is no longer an issue. “There is a huge pool of talented women in the pipeline and we need to focus on that,” he said. Knapp pointed out that people are living longer and continue to contribute as scholars at much later ages, which impedes the university’s ability to hire new professors. He said that the university may explore different pathways for people to contribute to scholarly life without taking up a faculty slot, which will free Hopkins to make more hiring decisions.

“We can’t have all this talent knocking at the door,” he said. The department of medicine, he noted, has had the most success at hiring women.

Myron Weisfeldt, who chairs the department of medicine, said that his department made a concerted and successful effort to hire more women long before he came to Hopkins five years ago. He also explained that his department has not had to deal with retirement issues to reach gender equity, like other departments, because medicine expanded dramatically at Hopkins when the budget for the National Institutes of Health doubled during the 90s.

“I believe the next big step is working on leadership,” Weisfeldt said. “Leadership turns over much more frequently than faculty.” The typical leadership position at Hopkins, he said, becomes vacant every 5 to 10 years and recruiting more women into those positions will probably be easy, he added.

“I think we need to take a very firm stance when we pick positions to make sure that we don’t overlook women,” he said, noting that women are often put off by male professional networks that seem to exclude women.

Linda Fried, professor of medicine and director of the center on ageing and health, said that Hopkins has a history of trying to solve this problem but has only met limited success. She chaired the committee that released the report, and said that prior attempts to retain more women by targeting disparities in salaries and promotions did not seem to work, suggesting a need to try different strategies. A change in how the university defines leadership seems essential, and the university must alter its culture if it wishes to recruit and retain more women.

“Hopkins, like a lot of universities, expects 24/7 dedication to work,” she said. “Men and women see this as an anachronism. We need to develop a broader array of excellence metrics, with more work-life balance, so that people can be valued and not seen as less dedicated to work,” she said. The report recommended that the university provide more "flexible" career paths, especially during the tenure track, while not reducing excellence. The report was vague on how it would accomplish this.

The report by Johns Hopkins follows on the heels of a statement signed last December by the presidents of nine leading research institutions pledging to provide more resources, to change institutional practices, and to "promote a culture that supports family commitment" as part of a drive to advance more women in academe.

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