A 1994 letter submitted by 16 tenured female MIT professors made faculty diversification at the School of Science a priority. As a result, the Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science was created in 1995. Four years later, the Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT confirmed widespread concerns among women that “gender had probably caused their professional lives to differ significantly from those of their male colleagues.” In response, Charles Vest, then MIT’s president, and Robert Brown, then provost, formed gender equity committees across the Institute and established a 12-member Council on Faculty Diversity.
In 2006, MIT created the position of associate provost for faculty equity to promote diversity as a goal in recruitment and retention, and to ensure that MIT provides a supportive career environment and helps employees manage work-family issues. Professors Barbara Liskov and Wesley Harris were appointed to share this post in 2007.
This past fall, President Susan Hockfield convened MIT’s first Diversity Leadership Congress, an event that brought together more than 300 leaders from across MIT’s academic, administrative, and student communities to share ideas for promoting diversity on campus. In October, W³ (What Women Want) hosted a Women’s Week focused on mentoring and advice from successful female alumni and student leaders.
Professor Nancy Hopkins, a primary author of the 1994 letter, says that MIT has done an excellent job solving problems that can be measured, such as gender disparities in lab space, salaries, hiring, and family leave policy. Recently, Liskov has helped improve hiring practices further, diversifying the faculty by expanding the pool of applicants. She has also worked to ensure that junior male and female faculty members get equitable teaching loads and committee assignments. But in society at large, cultural and political biases persist, making it harder to see women as scientists and engineers. Changing those biases won’t be easy, but it will be essential to keeping women from leaving promising careers.