ADVANCE helps promote female faculty at tech

In 1995, the National Science Foundation (NSF) selected Tech as the head institute to provide leadership in creating models to enhance gender equity in the fields of scientific and technological education, stereotypically male-dominated fields.

This spurred Integrating Gender Equity and Reform (InGEAR) to create gender equity among faculty and students and equal access to science, engineering, and mathematics programs.

“My research has shown that the percentages of women among undergraduate science and engineering majors and degree recipients are associated with the percentages of women faculty in these fields. This provides empirical support for the effects of ‘role models.’ My research shows that it matters to have women as well as men faculty for graduate students,” said Mary Frank Fox, co-director of Tech’s ADVANCE and Women, Science and Technology Programs.

One piece of data tracked by InGEAR was the percentage of tenure-track positions held by women at Tech in the late 1990s.

Across every college the percentages were strikingly low, especially in the College of Engineering.

While this may not seem like a huge dilemma for Tech students, the lack of female professors, fairness, and female leadership roles carry a subsequent effect on the great male-female divide. In 2001 the Tech ADVANCE program was established to develop approaches and solutions in creating gender equity with the help of a highly competitive, $3.7 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Compared to men, women faculty act as primary research advisors for a larger number of women students and they have more women on their research teams. Also, women faculty put emphasis upon giving advice, across areas of help, not only research and publication of papers, but also participation in team meetings and interacting with faculty,” said Fox.

The goal of the NSF ADVANCE program is to have a more balanced campus for faculty and students and to increase the participation of women through the increased representation and advancement of women and to improve the status of women in all colleges and in leadership.

Fox explains that the program continues to take an approach to institutional factors supporting the participation and advancement of women faculty at Tech and the promotion of women in leadership at Georgia through a network of Advance Professors, equity in tenure and promotion, family-friendly policies, faculty development practices, and tracking of data.

“The Georgia Tech NSF ADVANCE institutional transformation program took an ‘integrated approach to institutional factors’ that support the full participation and advancement of academic women, including leadership. We were one of the original institutions awarded a grant in the first round of awardees made in 2001. Nine institutions, nationally, were one in the first round of awards. The Tech ADVANCE activities for institutional transformation and initiatives constitute an integrated approach to key and core institutional factors that support advancement of faculty,” said Fox.

Another initiative is institutionalizing a formal training process for committees involved in tenure promotion, known as the Promotion and Tenure ADVANCE committee (PTAC) initiative to promote fairness in evaluation.

Part of this, which was developed by Dr. Carol Colatrella from LCC, is called the Awareness of Decisions in Evaluation of Promotion and Tenure (ADEPT) interactive tool that is required of all members of tenure promotion committees.

Other initiatives have been strengthening and extending the scope and impact of family-friendly practices for all faculty and collecting and using data to track equity and develop best practices.

“Tech committed to the institutionalization of the gains made during the NSF grant award period. The current ADVANCE initiative is for continuing transformation and success of women faculty. When you make things equitable for one group of faculty, you make conditions fair and equitable for all faculty. Equity enhances the whole institution,” said Fox.

The Tech ADVANCE team also implemented other specific goals to continue growth and opportunity for faculty, staff, and students alike.

One initiative for faculty advancement is using the ADEPT and the PTAC initiative’s “best practices.” These include having known guidelines for evaluations, which will help to promote equity and fairness on the Tech campus.

The ADVANCE program sponsors workshops for faculty members and graduate students. The programs are about leadership, obtaining and managing research grants, research productivity, and work-life issues.

The Women, Science and Technology Center, which is a part of the team, coordinates research panels and lectures, which are related to advancing prospects for women in the whole institute,” Fox said.

Another service that is offered is career coaching.

Fox said, “Thirdly, another initiative is career coaching. What this does is bring together faculty who are interested in advancement in a range of ways, including senior people who may want more leadership roles, and junior people who seek to be promoted to associate professor as well as to full professor. During the workshop, each person can receive advice from senior faculty members, which is an important mechanism. It institutionalizes a structured and open environment, which sets the stage for more interaction and exchange.”

The ADVANCE Program has recognized the need for advancement and retention of women faculty.

Over the past ten years, the number of female professors has steadily increased in Tech’s colleges. A key component is not just recruiting new faculty, but as importantly, retaining excellent faculty.

Fox said, “Over the course of the Tech NSF ADVANCE award period, there have been notable gains in the proportion of women faculty in Engineering, Sciences, and Ivan Allen College. Also, the College of Computing has retained their current proportion. What is important potentially for the future prospects is to have interaction with, and even do systematic interviews with, people who exit, to determine how it is that people are not retained,” Fox said.

Ten years ago, the lowest number of full female professors was in the College of Engineering.

Not only does this affect Tech’s engineering programs, but also it holds significance in its effect on future female student demographics.

“I think that the advancement of women in engineering is very important for a technological school, because of the size of the college of engineering and its relationship to Tech. What has happened is that increasing numbers of women are getting doctoral degrees in engineering, and that has partially translated into proportions of women faculty in engineering. In order to commit to the success of students, we must commit to the success of women faculty, because the two are related.” Fox said.

The ADVANCE program is continuing to build momentum and developing elements in institutional transformation.

“I believe the ADVANCE program will stay on track and help to make Tech a leader in the advancement of women faculty and diversity, just as Tech is a leader in other key areas. Challenges to advancement exist, but if they are increasingly acknowledged and addressed, that makes a difference. We need to have standards that are known, communicated, and shared, and Tech is making progress along those lines,” Fox said.