Recommended Gender Equity Solutions

The direct impacts of COVID-19 on merit, tenure and promotion will be felt for up to 7 years or more, with indirect effects impacting an entire generation of women academics. Therefore, we will be periodically updating this page so that the academic community will have a collective source of solutions that work towards gender equity for faculty. You can find our resources here. The conversation talking points on the solutions for gender equity in merit, tenure and promotion during and after the COVID-19 pandemic are listed in detail below.

Starting with Inclusive Leadership

Coming back to work after this pandemic is going to be challenging. People are going to be stressed, anxious, and worried. During this pandemic, women faculty (including those from groups underrepresented in STEM fields) will need to speak their truth with no fear and have frank conversations with their leadership about how their progress is being affected by the many responsibilities outside of being an academic. As universities navigate this new way of life in the COVID-19 crisis, leaders will need to be empathetic and implement appropriate solutions based on the needs of their faculty.

Let’s do our best to not worsen that burden by creating an environment that is tolerant of explicit and implicit discrimination. When individuals experience a workplace that is tolerant of discrimination and/or harassment they feel depressed, dejected, deflated, powerless, and unmotivated (Raver and Nishii, 2010). Now, more than ever, we need inclusivity and good leadership as both are necessary in order to maintain a happy and productive work environment (Sherbin and Rashid, 2017). We should also neither make it the responsibility of the underrepresented faculty, nor advertise it like an admissions ad. It should be introduced and encouraged to be part of the new stable environment.

Who Can Benefit from these Recommendations

We realize that this situation is putting a tremendous burden on individuals in positions other than tenured and tenure-track faculty. For example, graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and those on contingent contracts (e.g., research staff, adjuncts, non-tenure-track roles) will be greatly impacted by this pandemic. This is critical especially for students graduating this semester who are finding it harder than usual to land a job. This pandemic will impact the career trajectory of these individuals who are perhaps more vulnerable to this turmoil. While these situations are not the focus of this page, some of our solutions will be beneficial across multiple levels of academia.

Current Recommendations to Promote Gender Equity

  • Recommendations for Funding Agencies

It is recommended that agencies make changes to funding-related policies in order to allow for equitable adjustments to their funding mechanisms. These changes should be based on information gathered from multiple populations of scientists so that they are being more inclusive in science support. In the policy evaluation (re)process, these agencies should be able to identify and offer resources to promote gender equity at all stages of their scientific career. Such efforts are already underway in select agencies (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2020) but are not yet visible for all national and international funding agencies. Some suggested policy elements that directly reduces gender inequities in funded work are listed below.

    1. Have some type of national anonymous reporting developed, e.g. NSF or NIH, to reinforce government-issued quarantine orders. Individual PIs who decide not to comply with government orders by requiring non-essential employees to work can get fined.

    1. Provide adequate funding for higher education. Over the past few decades, the US federal and state governments have substantially reduced their investment in higher education, which has lead to fewer tenure-track faculty lines with the increased research expectations and pressures for faculty to secure large grants as a way of funding normal university operations. This suggested solution also has the potential to reduce the kinds of research-related competitive pressures that ultimately work to disadvantage women scholars and especially women scholars of color.

  • Recommendations for the Institutions of Academia

Key questions to ask during the institution-initiated conversation with faculty on COVID-19 impacts. More information on these questions can be found here. Image created by Roel Fleuren.
    1. The first step in acknowledging and correcting the presence of gender bias is to proactively start an honest conversation about gender equity within academia. Faculty and administrators of all genders need to be made aware of their biases and be adequately trained to promote gender equity. One feasible approach is to use an intervention model similar to a proposal reviewer onboarding process. An example of such institutional conservation can be inferred from Northwestern University's Organization of Women Faculty (2020).

    1. Accountability at the institutional level is required for these recommendations to achieve their full impact. We suggest that institutions empower either faculty governing bodies or an designated faculty member(s), e.g. Pandemic Response Faculty Fellow or Pandemic Faculty Merit Committee, that would ensure the implementation these equity metrics and polices in academia.

    1. Yes, there is a need for effective guidelines on how to quantify impacts of COVID-19 on the three academic pillars (teaching, research and service). During the honest conversation on equity, include topic questions as suggested here. Clear metrics, tangible benchmarks and effective communication that are supported at the institutional level are critical for decreasing bias in merit and promotion decisions.

    1. For those approaching performance evaluations or promotions to associate or full professorship, institutions need to facilitate equity by using more flexible criteria for tenure and promotion.

      • As an example, institutions can fairly quantify teaching loads by considering the class size, student majors/non-majors, and course level when evaluating teaching.

      • Acknowledgement and guidance on how to report the many unseen stressors that will impact faculty performance will go long way for proactively promoting equity in evaluation. In terms of research momentum, faculty should be able to account for their lost productivity in explicit ways.

    1. Having more than one option for faculty on COVID-19 impacted teaching roles will ensure teaching accountability of the faculty while promoting teaching equity. There are at least a few very different paths to take.

      • Some institutions are excluding student teaching evaluations for the Spring 2020 term. This alleviation option for a semester is not a fix-all solution based on our prior conversation on gender equity issues.

      • For semesters during and after the pandemic, institutions should document student evaluations of teaching with anti-bias verbiage within the instructions. This will ensure inclusion of teaching evidence of drastic approach and technological changes related to COVID-19 pandemic that can be beneficial to the pursuit of teaching excellence.

      • Institutions should recommend instructors and faculty to describe their teaching and mentoring role changes due to this pandemic. This description should include time-exhaustive tasks such as transitioning to an online mode of instruction during Spring 2020 term as well as other factors.

    1. Reduction in the institutional dependence on indirect cost rates derived from faculty grants is needed to restore the balance of the three academic pillars. This solution would have the potential to reduce the kinds of research-related competitive pressures that ultimately work to disadvantage women scholars and especially women scholars of color.

    1. Service as a result of responding to the multiple crisis-related needs should not be discounted. If equitably implemented adjustments occur, they will also help to level the playing field for women faculty.

    1. Fully inform faculty the short-term and long-term institution-specific outcomes of seeking tenure-clock extensions. This approach may be good for first-year faculty and can be a source of significant stress relief for many other faculty members. Simultaneously, this band-aid solution may also contribute to faculty members being excluded from positions of power that require tenure or applying to large research center grants that require the PI to be tenured. It will also make the faculty member out-of-sync with certain funding mechanisms that follow specific time clocks, such as years after PhD earned. More importantly, it decreases long-term earning potential, especially if faculty have taken more than one extension. Women faculty of color also run the risk of tenure committees unconsciously penalizing them more on productivity loss than when compared to men of majority groups especially where, across the board, tenure extensions have been granted (Antecol 2018).

  • Recommendations for the Evaluation Committees

The evaluation committees are usually comprised of the faculty members who are interpreting the guidelines and bylaws set forth by the institution. Therefore, these committees should adjust their interpretation based on the new COVID-19 related guidelines and conversations led by the institution. In addition, these evaluation committees are highly recommended to consider the following suggestion to further promote gender equity during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic:

    1. Select the best method to assess a change in effort distribution based on the type of institution (e.g., R1, small liberal arts college, or a community college).

      • Prior to beginning the evaluation task, committees should refer to the suggested tools.

      • Within the evaluation committee, include women and individuals from diverse backgrounds. These members' higher-than-normal service loads should be valued and explicitly counted toward their merit and promotion (McKenna 2018 and NSF 2018).

    1. Have the following short-term flexibility.

      • Any abstracts, papers, and workshops accepted for conferences that are cancelled because of the pandemic should still count.

    1. Have the following long-term adjustment.

      • Offer multiple paths to tenure. The fixed term or time frame to tenure, including existing extensions, needs to be re-evaluated and multiple paths to tenure need to be developed.

      • Establish substantive intermediary milestones, e.g. number of grants submitted, and number of manuscripts submitted.

      • Provide developmental feedback along this path. Ensure resources are provided to allow for accomplishing goals.

      • Develop an organizational/faculty team in the Provost office that is trained and committed to providing feedback and ensuring support. Ensure mentoring within and outside of the department throughout process.

  • Recommendations for Academic Departments and Divisions

Gender equity can be noticed more quickly at the department level as faculty are advised through merit, tenure and promotion evaluation processes. Having a positive interaction with the evaluation committee, while instinctively a goal of the department and divisions, may not align with supporting gender equity. Thus, many of the recommendations for the evaluation committees can also be applied to departments making COVID-19 related adjustments to their expectations of the three academic pillars. Additional points of consideration are listed below:

    1. Promote and career building regional and national workshops on campus. If funding is an issue for these types of workshops, find external partnership with organizations such as American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Women Chemists Committee.

    1. Encourage and support faculty who seek career development opportunities off-campus that incorporate bias awareness and how to professionally handle bias scenarios.

  • Recommendations for the Individual Faculty Member

There is an old saying - changes start with me. The recommendations outlined above and the resources suggested here provide faculty with a starting point for the discussion on gender equity at their institution. At the same time, each of us can take action as individuals to change academia and equity. Examples of such actions are recommended below:

    1. Like we teach our children, do not be the bystander when bias language and culture is being used in the department or division. When we say the ‘department or division’, this includes the classrooms, hallways, departmental meetings, on-campus research collaborations and social events. Remember that the next generation of scientists are actively and passively watching their mentors for acceptable behavior. A suggested change within the classroom is reconsidering how scientists are presented to students (Simpson, et al. 2021)

    1. Create a COVID-19 impact statement that is included in your evaluation package for tenure and promotions. This statement should then be reviewed by the Pandemic Merit Committee, which provides possible solutions to alleviate barriers. One possible solution is recommendation for additional sabbatical and developmental leave options that include dependent care support to help faculty regain their research productivity.

    1. Seek career development opportunities and events that incorporate bias awareness and steps towards how to professionally handle bias scenarios. Examples include:

      • COACh workshop (developed by folks in Oregon) for women to confidently and professionally navigate interpersonal interactions that can lead to promotion and career success

      • National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE) Management Bootcamp

      • American Chemical Society (ACS) postdoc-to-faculty (P2F) workshop

      • ACS-Cottrell Scholars Collaborative New Faculty Workshop for newly hired faculty within chemistry departments

    1. Seek opportunities to expand professional network points by including groups that have a focus on gender equity.