Increasing Opportunities for Women

At a rollout event on April 24, Northeastern University leaders announced plans to help break down institutional barriers and advance women in academic fields, including the sciences, engineering and social sciences, with $3.7 million in funding from a National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE grant.

Through NSF’s ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Award for Advancing Women in Interdisciplinary and International Networks, Northeastern is launching a five-year program to increase recruitment and other opportunities for women on campus.

Northeastern academic leaders, including president Joseph Aoun, provost Stephen Director, and ADVANCE director Sara Wadia-Fascetti, (who is also associate engineering professor and special assistant to the provost for faculty development), shared their vision of further transforming Northeastern into a university to be emulated by other institutions of higher learning.

Aoun stressed the need to be innovative and avoid replicating similar efforts at other universities. “We want to go beyond what others have done,” Aoun said.

The event included a panel of experts from universities with ADVANCE programs. Aoun encouraged panelists to describe the hurdles they faced in implementing ADVANCE initiatives. Director said it is Northeastern’s ultimate hope is “to encourage the growth and success, not only of our women faculty, but all of our faculty.”

The NSF ADVANCE grant makes possible several initiatives at Northeastern:
• Improved recruitment: A new recruitment committee of eight faculty members will work toward improving both applicant-pool diversity and hiring and evaluation procedures, and reducing unintended biases.
• Best practices: ADVANCE will host a series of activities for academic leaders related to recruitment, leadership, and mentoring, and will serve as a catalyst for prioritizing gender balance and diversity within the Academic Plan.
• Interdisciplinary networking: Workshops will bring prospective faculty to campus.
• Funding opportunities: ADVANCE will unveil a series of funding opportunities for academic departments, interdisciplinary programs and centers to strengthen national and international collaboration networks.

Sue Rosser, whose professional focus has been attracting and retaining women in science, gave the opening address. Currently a dean at Georgia Institute of Technology who will become provost of San Francisco State University in August, Rosser described how Georgia Tech improved the climate for women on its campus.

“We were looking to help advance women to more senior positions, to have more women in the pipeline to become chairs, deans, provosts and beyond,” she said.

With goals including the elimination of subtle bias, Georgia Tech began offering women more networking opportunities and access to leadership. The institute also developed family-friendly policies to allow tenure-track faculty to “stop the tenure clock” to accommodate family needs.

The panel discussion afforded a national perspective. Also sharing their institutional and personal ADVANCE experiences were panelists Lotte Bailyn, T. Wilson professor of management emerita at MIT’s Sloan School of Management; Mark McNamee, senior vice president and provost, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Abigail Stewart, professor of psychology, University of Michigan.

Northeastern is one of nine new sites awarded institutional transformation grants in 2008. On its Web site, the NSF describes the goal of the ADVANCE programs as developing “systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce.”

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