Barely one-third — 37 percent — of professors at Cal Poly are women.
Special to Mustang News
Think for a minute. Try to remember how many female professors you’ve had at Cal Poly.
If it’s a small number, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the ratio of male to female faculty is disproportionately low. Cal Poly data has consistently shown a higher number of men filling positions.
Barely one-third — 37 percent — of professors at Cal Poly are women, according to a 2012 institutional planning and analysis report. The gap is even wider among tenured and tenure-track faculty numbers, of whom only 31 percent are women.
With national polls showing overwhelming support for women’s work equity and President Barack Obama declaring a need to make women’s pay equal in January’s State of the Union, a debate has begun exploring the historical context of the issue and other effects inequality has on institutions.
“Things are changing; I think that’s a really important thing for people to recognize,” said Jody Lisberger, a visiting women’s and gender studies professor who gave a talk at Cal Poly about the lack of women in universities nationwide. “They change slowly, because there is such a weight of history in the gender division of labor.”
The issue is not unique to Cal Poly, with universities throughout the nation discovering problems with unequal pay and disproportionate ratios of women to men, as well as minorities.
“At Cal Poly, and at every university in the country, women — for the same job — are earning less than men,” Lisberger said.
At Cal Poly, there are only 197 female tenured and tenure-track faculty, while there are 436 men — a significant disparity, Lisberger said.
Departments that traditionally have more female professors, such as those in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), pay their employees considerably less.
“You can see that faculty in the College of Liberal Arts, a field believed to be less sophisticated and worthy of less money than these other highly commodified product-oriented occupations, are almost across the board paid substantially less than other faculty,” she said.
Out of the university’s six colleges, the CLA has the most female tenured or tenure-track faculty at 46 percent, according to Martha Cody, Cal Poly’s employment equity director.
While the average salaries of faculty in the College of Engineering and College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) — two typically male-dominated areas — are above $85,000 and $79,000, respectively, Cody said the average salary for CLA faculty was only about $73,056.
Even within departments, differences can be seen. In the CLA, College of Engineering and CAED, women are, on average, paid less than their male colleagues.
Not only are female faculty receiving less pay and less presence in colleges, but females in male-dominated departments can be forced to overcompensate in their skills to compete with their male counterparts.
Lizabeth Schlemer, an industrial and manufacturing engineering professor, said she knows it all too well.
“Women have to work harder, be smarter, which isn’t very fair, but it’s the way that I’ve survived,” she said.
Women, Schlemer said, are often forced to chose between a family and a career.
“It’s kind of a hard road to get to be a professor; you have to go to school forever,” she said. “A lot of the time that you’re doing this hard work is just around your child-bearing years. I think a lot of people don’t choose it for that reason.”
The issues facing Cal Poly are definitely a problem, Cody said, and the university is working to combat it.
“Having more women as faculty is important because it provides students with role models, and we want to take full advantage of all the talents that women have in the workforce,” she said. “We are really cheating ourselves if we don’t.”
Several initiatives have recently been set in motion, including a review and revision of academic personnel policies to increase diversity, as well as a campus climate survey that will gauge attitudes toward diversity at Cal Poly.
With all these steps, Cody said, there has been a slow progression in the situation.
“The trend is going in the right direction,” she said. “We have more women in many departments and colleges, but we need to continue our efforts. We’re not where we want to be yet.”
Lisberger, whose visiting professorship will finish at the end of winter quarter, said to have a more equitable workforce to take place, privileges may have to be shared.
“When you have these gendered systems that are so historically entrenched, it takes time to change them,” she said. “It not only takes time, there is only a finite number of resources. In order to bring a certain group up, it is possible that a number of groups will need to give up or share some of their preferential treatment.”
Correction 1: The caption that ran with this photo on Feb. 27 in the print edition of Mustang News misidentified the woman in the photo as Visiting Professor Jody Lisberger. The woman is actually Assistant Professor Jenn Yost.
Correction 2: This article also mistakenly attributed Jody Lisberger as saying departments that traditionally employ more women, such as the College of Liberal Arts, pay their employees considerably less. Though this is accurate, she did not say it.