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‘Room for improvement’: Male faculty address unequal treatment of women



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Simon Brassell, Matt Zink and Ed Hirt are members of the male faculty working at IU. The three men conducted an ally workshop for gender equity April 23, in the Walnut Room at the Indiana Memorial Union. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Nationwide, annual salaries of female faculty are $23,000 less than male faculty, according to a 2017 study published in Educational Researcher.

A room of 25 male faculty members listened intently to data showing gender imbalances on Monday afternoon in the Indiana Memorial Union Walnut Room. Several men repeatedly inquired whether the evidence was from their own campus. 

“Irrespective of what male faculty may experience, the experience of female faculty is clearly different,” professor and advocate Simon Brassell said. 

CEWiT instituted a Faculty Men Allies for Gender Equity Workshop last fall to spread awareness of unequal treatment based on gender, and to provide men with skills to intervene. 

CEWiT refers to men who have completed the program as allies, expecting them to share with their colleagues the skills they learned to combat unjust treatment. Since the first session in November 2017, 106 faculty have been trained as allies. 

Fifteen faculty members have advanced to become advocates, leading workshops themselves. 

IU faculty advocates Simon Brassell, Matt Zink and Edward Hirt led CEWiT's third session Monday. 

Brassell said one of his daughters wants to pursue academia, and his daughter-in-law is on the verge of becoming a faculty member. 

“I’m anxious that they have an environment, wherever they go in academia, that is more accepting of gender equity,” Brassell said.

The workshop’s structure is modeled off a program created at North Dakota State University in 2008. After seeing that initiative’s success, IU joined 10 other universities in implementing similar programs last fall. 

As the men munched on boxed lunches and introduced themselves to their peers, Brassell asked them to share what compelled them to attend. 

Caleb Mutch, a visiting assistant professor in the Jacobs School of Music, said his subfield within music studies is two-thirds male-dominated. 

“I’m interested in thinking about ways to do my part to address this,” Mutch said. 

Mehmet Dalkilic, a computer science professor, said there are very few women in his field. He and his colleagues are working on a new introductory computer science class that appeals more to women. 

Before the presentation began, the men were provided with handouts showing male responses from a survey of IU faculty.

They were asked to guess how female responses compared. 

For a statement reading "Faculty in my department have a sense of unity and cohesion," 36.24 percent of male respondents strongly agreed. Only 20.19 percent of female respondents strongly agreed to the same statement.

While the advocates emphasized the importance of using the data to learn, rather than analyze research practices, several men attempted to conjure alternative explanations for the discrepancies. 

An interactive activity later in the program tasked participants with identifying micro-inequities, small acts of gender discrimination, in eight given scenarios.

The situations, adapted from real incidents reported to CEWiT, included the interruption of female faculty in discussions, the neglect of ideas voiced by women in meetings and different treatment of male and female students. 

“A male student might say, ‘I’m having difficulty with this problem,’ and the male professor might respond by saying, ‘Well, what are the difficulties you’re having? Have you explored this?’ And essentially engage in a very reactive and informative session with that student,’" Brassell said. “Whereas a female student might ask almost the same question and be told, ‘Oh, here’s how you do the problem.’”

This activity was included in the hopes that faculty become self-conscious of their own behavior and recognize innapropriate actions in their colleagues. 

Brassell said he hopes to eventually have allies present in all departments to help spread more equal treatment through the University’s culture. 

“The sooner, the better,” Brassell said. 

CEWiT will extend workshops to graduate students and associate instructors next year. 

The center is also planning workshops specifically for the chairs of STEM departments, the field CEWiT notes to have the most significant gender imbalances. 

While 95 percent of workshop participants to date have said they recommend others participate, Brassell said a survey yielding more equal responses from men and women will be the true measure of success.

“Then, I think we will feel that we have truly accomplished something,” Brassell said. “There’s clearly a lot of room for improvement in some of those numbers.”

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