Advancing women in academia

North­eastern ADVANCE, a National Sci­ence Foundation-​​funded pro­gram designed to increase the rep­re­sen­ta­tion and advance­ment of women and minori­ties in aca­d­emic sci­ence and engi­neering careers, levels the aca­d­emic playing field, said Jan Rine­hart, the program’s exec­u­tive director.

“Pro­grams tar­geted for women and minori­ties are impor­tant because they can be left out of informal infor­ma­tion cir­cles and are not always privy to non­written rules,” she explained. “And if you don’t know the rules of the game, you can’t play and win.”

The initiative’s inno­v­a­tive approach, which focuses on building an increas­ingly global and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research envi­ron­ment, helped increase the per­centage of North­eastern female fac­ulty mem­bers from 20 per­cent in 2007 to 24 per­cent in 2011.

Sara Wadia-​​Fascetti, pro­fessor of civil and envi­ron­mental engi­neering and director of ADVANCE, which oper­ates within the Office of the Provost, noted the initiative’s two main goals: to diver­sify the fac­ulty and to change the cul­ture of the uni­ver­sity. To achieve these goals, the pro­gram offers a variety of work­shops and ser­vices to all fac­ulty mem­bers as well as doc­toral can­di­dates and post­doc­toral researchers.

One project, Strate­gies and Tac­tics for Recruiting to Improve Diver­sity and Excel­lence, or STRIDE, seeks to “max­i­mize the like­li­hood that diverse, highly qual­i­fied can­di­dates will be iden­ti­fied, recruited, retained and pro­moted at North­eastern,” Wadia-​​Fascetti said.

STRIDE teaches search-​​committee mem­bers good prac­tices in part by helping them iden­tify implicit bias. “This is so much more subtle than a stereo­type,” Rine­hart said. “It’s an unques­tioned assump­tion that you’re not even aware of.”

Let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion for women, for example, tend use words that are com­munal, whereas let­ters for men tend to use words asso­ci­ated with lead­er­ship and authority according to var­ious orga­ni­za­tional psy­chology studies.

“When you’re hiring a new fac­ulty, you’re looking for people who are effec­tive leaders,” Rine­hart said.

ADVANCE also offers External Career Men­toring Teams to help junior fac­ulty mem­bers net­work and build their external rep­u­ta­tions. In 2010, the first ECMT was offered to sci­ence and engi­neering fac­ulty mem­bers, which depart­ment chairs said increased national vis­i­bility  among those who participated.

In the fall, ADVANCE will offer men­toring teams for the social sci­ences as well as a lead­er­ship skill devel­op­ment pro­gram for mid­ca­reer fac­ulty mem­bers. The pro­gram will com­prise a series of eight two-​​hour courses over the fall semester that help fac­ulty build skills to become center direc­tors and research leaders.

Throughout the year, ADVANCE hosts future fac­ulty work­shops in con­junc­tion with external con­fer­ences hosted by North­eastern. These work­shops are open to all doc­toral stu­dents and post­doc­toral researchers regard­less of insti­tu­tional affiliation.

“The work­shops are inter­dis­ci­pli­nary net­working oppor­tu­ni­ties intended to help par­tic­i­pants pre­pare for their future careers,” Wadia-​​Fascetti said.

Stephen Director, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs, said the ini­tia­tive ben­e­fits the entire uni­ver­sity community.

“From my past expe­ri­ence and from working with North­eastern ADVANCE, I find that changes made in the insti­tu­tional cul­ture are pos­i­tive for everyone, even though the activ­i­ties and goals specif­i­cally address women and ethnic minori­ties,” he explained.

“We’ve found that what’s good for women and minori­ties is good for every­body,” Rine­hart added. “It helps everyone every time you make infor­ma­tion and processes explicit and transparent.”

Northeastern’s NSF-​​funded ADVANCE ini­tia­tive takes an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach to pro­moting female fac­ulty mem­bers.