Bridging the Gender Gap

Tufts University, like most institutions of higher education, prides itself on equity and diversity. However, in a study published by the Eos Foundation in September of last year, Tufts ranked 87th out of 93 in a report on gender parity.

The Eos Foundation, established by Andrea Silbert in 2007, was created with a mission to develop and sustain equality in various institutions, including higher education. They launched the Women’s Power Gap Initiative in order to bring attention to the extensive gender inequality that exists among colleges. The Women’s Power Gap Initiative then published a report ranking all Massachusetts colleges and universities in terms of number of women compared to men in leadership positions. It defines the women’s power gap as “the difference between the percentage of men and women in leadership positions [such as deans, administrators, provosts, board of trustees, etc].”

The study examined the disparity between the number of women and men filling leadership positions within the 2017-2018 school year from 93 institutions of higher education in Massachusetts, including Tufts. While the study does not account for race due to lack of available data, it notes that women of color make up a significantly smaller number of leadership positions compared to their White counterparts. The report states “progress for women of color is minimal… Data on women of diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds is extremely difficult to gather. Women of color lead only five of the institutions in our study.”

The report found that Tufts is in need of “Urgent Attention” in its attention to gender parity in hiring. The report summarizes Tufts’ institutional failings that qualify it for this status, stating: “The institution has never had a female president, their board chair is a man, and their board and deans of degree-granting programs are predominantly male. The institution’s EVP [Executive Vice President] is a woman. Women comprise 40 percent of the most highly compensated professionals.” In contrast, the schools that were ranked under the highest category, “Satisfactory,” are women’s colleges like Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and Wellesley College.

Judy Neufeld (A’05), a consultant with Eos, expressed her own concerns following the release of this data. “I was surprised to see Tufts come near last in the rankings,” she said. “I thought it was odd because in my experience as a former Jumbo, I saw a lot more women in leadership positions when I was a student.”

The Eos Foundation compared data between 2008 and 2018, where it saw a negative progression of gender parity at Tufts, accrediting what Neufeld had remembered in terms of more leadership in 2005. In regards to Deans across all schools, Tufts has gone from having 44 percent representation of women in 2008 to 29.5 percent in 2018. In the same decade, Tufts’s senior leadership team, which includes provosts, Deans of degree-granting programs, and the Executive Vice President, decreased from 60 to 40 percent women.

In recent news, Mary Pat McMahon, the Dean of Student Affairs for the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, has announced she will be leaving Tufts to assume the role of Vice Provost and Vice President of Campus Life at Duke University. It is our responsibility as community members to urge the administration to be cognizant of the increasing need for varied representation—by gender and race—not only in filling her position, but in filling other positions of power going forward. Even for positions where the percentages of women have not dramatically decreased, elected positions have increased, while the number of women filling those positions has remained stagnant. In other words, women are not being intentionally hired.

At the schools noted in the study, women represent 57 percent of all students and earn the majority of doctoral degrees, yet they only hold 31 percent of all college presidencies. The report asked: “Why does such gender disparity in leadership exist in a field where women have been excelling for decades?” In many ways, the pipeline is full. The stage is set for women to take on powerful positions. Women have degrees, and they are applying and making it into the final applicant pool, but why are they not chosen for the position?

According to the Eos Foundation’s Diversity Snapshot Report, unconscious bias could be a primary reason.They define this term as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that form outside of our own conscious awareness.”

The same report stated that out of the last eight state university presidential searches in Massachusetts, “women represented 39 percent of all finalists considered by the local university boards.” Even though women were present within the qualified candidate pool, “not a single school selected a woman for any of those eight positions.” By extension, Tufts may engage with diverse candidates during the application process, but does not actually follow through or do inclusive work in its hires. Much of this gap in interviewing and hiring is due to clear unconscious biases that exist in minority hiring.

So, what do we do about unjust hiring processes? How can we as a student body and community pressure university leaders to intentionally hire more women in high-level administrative positions?

After the report’s release, the Tufts Daily published an article shedding light on this issue. A few weeks after the article came out, the Tufts Community Union Senate passed a resolution calling on Tufts to achieve gender parity in university leadership. The resolution also urged administrators to undergo unconscious bias training and prioritize the issue of gender parity. At the time of publication, the Tufts administration has not yet responded to this resolution.

The Eos Foundation has now launched the Gender and Race Accountability Demanded Equally (GRADE) campaign, a student-led initiative geared towards engaging students to work with the administration and the student body to spread information and promote their mission. The campaign started a chapter at Tufts this year and is working to increase awareness of Tufts’ low ranking in gender parity and voice more students’ opinions on why we should demand equal gender representation in institutional positions of high authority.

Diversity is not just beneficial, but a necessity for any institution. With a male CEO, there will always be inevitable blind spots that exist in advocating for women, particularly women of color. A male CEO cannot attend to the needs of all employees without a balanced team who are actively advocating for their own needs. The gender parity report authors warn that, “It is never enough to have just one group control so much power, influence, and wealth; society collectively needs diversity.”

Neufeld emphasized that Tufts needs to prioritize diversity in its hiring practices. “I believe that in order to create diverse teams, you must be intentional in building them and supporting women and people of color to stay in those roles and grow into new ones,” she said. “I don’t know if that is currently happening [at Tufts].”

As students, it is our responsibility to both urge the administration to acknowledge the gap in gender parity at Tufts and to actively seek out ways that we can make this a priority in the future of the university. Sophomore Grant Gebetsberger, one of the co-authors of the gender parity resolution, feels strongly that this call to action is crucial at this time in Tufts’ history. “Progress is impossible without intentionality; ignorance and inaction are more to blame than malice for underrepresentation in leadership within our institutions locally and across the country,” he said. “If we want our leadership to reflect our diverse reality, it requires intentionality and pressure on those who have the power to make it happen.”


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