UW News

June 12, 2015

UW LEADs nation in female engineering faculty

Bioengineering professor Valerie Daggett works with a student in her lab.

Bioengineering professor Valerie Daggett works with a student in her lab.University of Washington

Among the nation’s top 50 engineering schools, the University of Washington has the highest percentage of women in tenure-track engineering faculty positions: 22.4 percent.

Nationally, the figure is 14.5 percent, and that gap didn’t grow by accident.

Over the past 14 years, UW has worked on everything from highlighting how unconscious bias can affect hiring practices to ensuring junior faculty feel comfortable extending tenure clocks to have children to providing leadership support.

The UW chose early on to focus on one thing that can have an outsized influence on faculty members’ well-being — especially for women and other underrepresented groups in science, math and engineering. They created Leadership Excellence for Academic Diversity (LEAD) workshops to help department chairs acquire skills to create equitable and inclusive environments that work well for all faculty members.

Now, the UW is developing an online toolkit — called LEAD-it-Yourself! — that other universities can use to design and host their own department-focused workshops to advance STEM faculty diversity at their home institutions.

The UW is hosting a special train-the-trainer workshop in Seattle in October 2015 that will give participants an early look at the coming online toolkit and the opportunity to get help planning a workshop on faculty recruitment for their own department chairs. Applications will be accepted until June 22.

Apply by June 22 for the LEAD-it-Yourself! Train-the-Trainer workshop, to be held October 26, 2015 at the UW

“The departmental culture is the front line of how people experience a university — it’s where evaluations take place, where people are assigned to teaching, where decisions about salaries are made,” said Joyce Yen, program and research manager for the UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change that developed the LEAD workshops.

“Department chairs really influence that microclimate. But often they move into these positions after having been research superstars or individual investigators, and then they become managers of people. And they maybe have no formal education around how to do that well,” Yen said.

The full version of the open-source toolkit — which will allow users to share, upload, add to and rate materials — will be available in 2016. The online resources will include everything from sample budgets and invitational emails that are helpful in planning a workshop to content such as case studies, handouts and sample presentations.

The LEAD materials cover a wide range of topics, including how to effectively communicate, recruit faculty from nontraditional sources, recognize how unconscious biases perpetuate the status quo, manage up and down, effectively mentor a faculty member whose background may be different than one’s own and be cognizant of data that show, for instance, that women aren’t likely to negotiate as hard as men.

“We tell the chairs that if they’re hiring a man and a woman at the same time, make sure that when she says ‘thank you’ and he says ‘is that all?’ that she gets an equal amount,” said Eve Riskin, an electrical engineering professor and associate dean of diversity and access for the UW College of Engineering. “On the other hand, sometimes the woman may be offered a higher salary, and we tell the chair to make sure the man gets the higher salary, too.”

UW associate professor of materials science and engineering Christine Luscombe

UW associate professor of materials science and engineering Christine LuscombeUniversity of Washington

The UW’s original campus workshops grew out of an NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Grant awarded in 2001 to advance women faculty in science, engineering and mathematics and help create a diverse climate where all faculty in these disciplines receive support and recognition. These workshops continue today on the UW campus. Additionally, three national LEAD workshops hosted by the UW in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and the online toolkit have been funded by follow-up NSF grants.

Since the first grant, the UW has seen a 78 percent increase in the number of tenured or tenure-track women faculty in all ADVANCE departments, including an 100 percent increase in engineering departments and a 59 percent increase in science and math departments.

“One of the big reasons we’ve been doing so well with our women faculty hires is our history with this program and these workshops,” said Riskin. “Our chairs have really signed on and have worked hard to recruit women and do the right thing. And once you have a critical mass of female faculty in a department, it makes it so much easier to attract more.”

For more information, contact Yen at joyceyen@uw.edu or 206-543-4605 or Riskin at riskin@uw.edu or 206-685-2313.