Women’s Leadership Council provides data on women faculty at University

The University of Chicago has released an inaugural Report on the Status of Academic Women at the University of Chicago, providing detailed data on the representation of women across the faculty of the University, including leadership positions held by female faculty members.

The report was initiated and produced by the Women’s Leadership Council at the University, and endorsed by President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Thomas F. Rosenbaum. Members of the Women’s Leadership Council compiled the report with the goal of providing an initial assessment of the status of women within the University’s faculty and academic leadership, and stimulating a campus-wide discussion and debate informed by the data.


Women constitute a growing proportion of faculty members at the University, the report found. The data also detail how women are represented at different faculty ranks across the divisions and schools of the institution. University leaders and the report’s authors say this information is vital as units and schools strive to welcome and support preeminent scholars of all backgrounds, a commitment engrained in the University of Chicago’s history, culture, and fundamental values.

“From its founding, the University of Chicago has aimed to attract the most talented, creative, and impactful scholars, and to foster a community where ideas are freely exchanged and challenged,” Rosenbaum wrote in a forward to the report. “We pride ourselves on the quality of argument and discourse that comprises a Chicago education and believe firmly that it is what you have to say, not who you are, that matters. These aspirations are woven into our DNA, but we cannot assume that they are always expressed or optimally achieved.”

“If we are not leaders in attracting talented women and men to our ranks, then we cannot reach our potential as a University,” Rosenbaum wrote.

The new findings come as the University is engaged in a long-term effort to strengthen the climate for women faculty and for all faculty members with families. These actions include the formation of the Women’s Leadership Council, plans for two new child care centers serving the University community, and a new grant program to support dependent care for junior faculty engaged in work-related travel. In addition, the University has revised promotion policies to grant an automatic one-year extension of the promotion clock for the birth or adoption of a child, and established a dual-career office to help place into jobs the spouses and partners of recruited faculty.

Intellectual engagement and the quality of scholarship benefit from having a diverse faculty that draws in eminent male and female scholars, said Peggy Mason, Professor in Neurobiology and a member of the Women’s Leadership Council.

“Improving gender parity in academicscan occurbut it requires hard work, hard choices, creativity, and most of all, constant vigilance,” Mason said. “Success in this effort will bring us the most talented academics as well as a thriving intellectual culture, in which no faculty member is marginalized and every faculty member contributes freely to intellectual life at the University of Chicago.”

Mason and the report’s authors stressed that it provides a starting point for discussion. Substantial work remains to reach consensus on how the University and its units can make additional progress.

“We hope this document will prove a valuable resource as faculty members and University leaders move forward with the essential work of fostering excellence and equity,” said Mary Harvey, Associate Provost for Program Development and a member of the Women’s Leadership Council.

The report’s findings are highly relevant to the task of developing pathways for women to enter leadership roles, said Lenore Grenoble, Chair of Slavic Languages and Literatures and a member of the Women’s Leadership Council.

“In order to get a range of views at the table, you need to have a range of people,” Grenoble said. “Having a diverse set of leaders fosters a diversity of perspectives and leadership approaches, and ultimately it enriches the university intellectually. This report highlights the need to foster an environment that supports and develops women in leadership positions.”

The report provides a wealth of data without additional interpretation or commentary on past or future policy at the University. Rather, the data aremeant to inform and stimulate discussion.

At the time of the University’s first classes in 1892, women accounted for an unusually large number of the original faculty – 12 percent, according to the report. This reflects the fact that the University of Chicago welcomed women students and faculty members many decades before such openness became the norm at a larger number of American institutions.

The authors describe the early number as “evidence that the founders’ vision was far ahead of its time.” The percentage of women faculty had dropped to 8 percent by 1972, when the federal anti-discrimination provision Title IX was passed. By 2010, the number of women faculty had increased to 273, with women accounting for 25 percent of the total tenure track faculty.

The report also breaks down the percentages of women faculty by division or school, and analyzes new hires, attrition rates, distribution of faculty leadership positions and named professorships. In addition, the report quantifies the relatively low number of faculty and leadership positions filled by women in the sciences and business.

Efforts to attract and support women in the sciences have been a particular focus of the University. The Women in Science Project, co-sponsored by the Provost’s Office and the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, brings together women faculty from across the institution to meet peers and present their research. This year the University of Chicago and Northwestern University launched a partnership to create the Chicago Collaboration for Women in STEM, with programs aimed at providing women with the tools to advance in their careers. In addition, the Women’s Leadership Council has sponsored a series of well-attended gatherings for women faculty of all ranks and across all University units.

The report’s authors welcome readers to contribute comments and suggestions at the report website. Please click here to see the report and offer feedback