Thursday, December 2, 2010

Preparing Department Chairs to Advance Gender Equity

Department chairs play an important role in setting policies, in hiring and evaluating faculty, and in influencing the climate within astronomy and physics departments. They can have a major impact on the recruitment, retention, advancement and success of women faculty and students. Most chairs receive no training for their work and many are only dimly aware of best practices for diversity and inclusion and they receive no coaching or leadership mentoring. Fortunately, this is beginning to change.

When I became a department head (a longer-term, more powerful version of the chair), I undertook some leadership training, audited a couple of management classes, and did extensive reading. I created a personal and professional 5-year plan and took an intensive course in mediation. I read "Why So Slow" by Virginia Valian alongside "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. I listened to faculty, staff, and students. My best education came from meeting with women graduate students.

In matters of diversity and inclusion, there are now some excellent training resources available. The standard of excellence is set by the University of Michigan ADVANCE program. Their STRIDE materials are well known and were highlighted by the CSWA in their sessions at the May 2010 session on unconscious bias. However, they also have a set of useful summaries for academic leaders at http://sitemaker.umich.edu/advance/for_deans_and_chairs_leadership. They and now several other ADVANCE projects provide leadership training and coaching, e.g. the ACES project at Case Western and the Increasing Women in Neuroscience (IWiN) project. I participated in a department chairs workshop organized by IWiN and believe it would be informative and useful for any chair.

Most chairs want to do a good job but are not provided the tools needed to fully develop their talents for leadership and their effectiveness in promoting diversity and inclusion. This represents a lost opportunity. Institutions that invest in their leadership see improvements in the climate within and success of their departments. My own university offers no university-wide training for academic leaders and I am considering to encourage it. Does yours?