HERS Summer Institute

A few months ago I applied to attend the Denver HERS Institute for Women in Higher Education. The goal of the program is to "offer 40 women faculty and administrators the opportunity to participate in an intensive leadership and management development program preparing them for institutional leadership roles in higher education administration." The application process was fairly arduous. I first had to ask my boss to nominate me attend. Then, I had to pre-apply internally as my institution had decided they would sponsor only two faculty members to attend. I was somewhat amazed that I made it through all of the pre-application hurdles and that my final application was accepted. Incredibly, my employer is covering the tuition and fees for me to attend this program. Huzzah.

The program starts this coming weekend. We have a week on-site where we will live in a campus dormitory and ideally form a cohesive cohort. Then there will be weekend trainings one a month for the next few months to finish the program. It’s not as intensive as the month long Bryn Mawr Summer Institute, but fit my schedule better. Some of the curriculum looks lifted from my MBA classes but much of the focus is new, and geared toward special issues in Higher Education.

I had a conversation last week with the Director of Diversity and Equal Opportunity at my institution on other matters. I mentioned my excitement about attending this program but also my concern/confusion about whether single sex programs such as this one are still needed today. Given her position and age, I was a bit surprised that she agreed with me completely. Why not just offer training like this for people (male & female) who are interested in academic administration? How would we (as women) feel if a parallel, men only, program was offered? (we both suspected there would be outrage).  Note: I really want to participate in this Summer Institute (I need the training), but are single sex programs the best way to promote this? Are we not yet past this?

Such were my thoughts today when I came across this article on the continuing gender gap in US wages. The article started as follows:

About 10 years ago, a group of graduate students lodged a complaint with Linda C. Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University : All their male counterparts in the university’s PhD program were teaching courses on their own, whereas the women were working only as teaching assistants. That mattered, because doctoral students who teach their own classes get more experience and look better prepared when it comes time to go on the job market.

When Babcock took the complaint to her boss, she learned there was a very simple explanation: "The dean said each of the guys had come to him and said, ‘I want to teach a course,’ and none of the women had done that," she said. "The female students had expected someone to send around an e-mail saying, ‘Who wants to teach?’ "

The incident prompted Babcock to start systematically studying gender differences when it comes to asking for pay raises, resources or promotions. And what she found was that men and women are indeed often different when it comes to opening negotiations.

This article continues at some length. There were many surprises there for me. Men and women who ask for resources, promotions, or raises are treated differently depending both on the gender of the person asking but also based on the gender of the person being asked. The author concluded that women have learned that in some situations it is socially better (although perhaps not professionally better) to not ask for more than is offered.

This paragraph really stood out for me:

Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women’s reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more — the perception was that women who asked for more were "less nice."

We are discriminating against our fellow women colleagues. While I can see this in perhaps high school, e.g. Mean Girls, or in certain professions such as acting, e.g. All About Eve, I was surprised to find this tendency to be so incredibly pervasive. If we do this to ourselves, why would we possibly expect the men we work with to be blind to our gender?

So now I am perhaps somewhat even more concerned about this same sex adventure that I am about to embark on. Will these 40 women become friends & mentors? Or will we somehow subtly lash out at each other penalizing each other for striving for more?

2 comments on “HERS Summer Institute
  1. Irene says:

    Intersting debate… I have mixed feelings about same sex seminars, classes, schools, etc… I guess it depends on what it is. I have friends who’ve attended all female private high schools. Most of them felt like they were able to concentrate more on their academics without the distrations of their male couterparts. Others were more rebelious and ended up attending a traditional high school instead. I have worked in an all female doctor’s office for a time, and it was more about the meshing of personalities than being all female. We never became “catty” with each other. Later on, a male doctor came on staff, nothing really changed, but only because of his calm personality. There are a lot of old perceptions about how women (and men)should be, and it’s still changing, but it’s a slow change.
    It will be interesting to see how the program goes. Keep us posted.

  2. Cathy says:

    Thanks Irene
    I thought the “glass ceiling” for women was gone, at least in academia, but I was discouraged to learn that the numbers do not support that. And unfortunately, I see the need in my place of employment. The person who was recruited to be my new boss is a woman. Already I am starting to hear the rumblings from colleagues that the “only reason she was picked was because she was a woman.” Being on the search committee, I know that her credentials were outstanding, which was how she made the short list, **and** she happens to be female. The need for same sex ed is sadly not yet over.
    The HERS institute has been terrific so far. We will have a few more sessions in the coming months. I have a lot of homework but I like this kind.