Take meaningful steps towards gender equality

Photo courtesy of Annie Anton

As an alum and a school chair, I feel compelled to comment on the “Join the Brave and the Bold” petition that is circulating.

As one of only two women school chairs, I felt the need to set a good example and “join” the petition.  As a three-time alum, I regret my decision to sign; allow me to explain.

In my 11 years as a student at Georgia Tech, I never once felt discriminated against for being a woman.  Not once.  I had other challenges, but that was never one of them.  For example, I competed with men for scholarships based on merit, and I frequently beat out the men.  One year, I remember the top three leadership awards went to three women.

Unfortunately, my experience on the faculty is different than my experience as a student. Since returning to Tech as a school chair three years ago, I have observed gender inequities that continually appear to disenfranchise the outstanding women on our faculty. I’ve worked hard to try to help them feel valued by, for example, seeking out opportunities for them, nominating them and doing what I can to ensure their salaries are fair. Men are frequently nominated for awards and chaired positions by male-dominated committees, resulting in a noticeable lack of representation for women.  Among the nine in the College of Computing’s Dean’s cabinet, I am the only woman.  A colleague recently observed that there are more men named Steve who are administrators at Tech than there are women deans or school chairs. We have wonderful administrators named Steve on campus, but the fact that faculty look for ways like this to get the message out about the lack of women suggests a quiet desperation.

As a school chair, these experiences help me understand why faculty feel differently than many students and alumni about the words in the fight song.  However, I firmly believe that instead of changing a word in the fight song, our real call to action should be to fix the culture. Changing the culture requires us to honestly evaluate institute-wide/college-specific policies and practices that have led women (and possibly other groups) to feel disenfranchised on campus.

Everyone should be and feel valued at Georgia Tech.  Changing one word in a fight song doesn’t fix what seems to be the real deep-seated and underlying problem.  Let’s tackle the thorny problems rather than slap a band-aid on them.  Perhaps the time has finally come to create an institute-wide task force to address gender equity in all forms: opportunity, representation, pay and recognitions such as chaired professorships. Other universities have done this, including NC State and UT Austin.

Gender equity and diversity are important issues nationally in engineering and computing, and Georgia Tech should be “the brave and the bold” leader on these issues.