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Judith Saidel: A Champion of Gender Equity

May 18, 2009

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Center for Women in Government and Civil Society Executive Director Judith R. Saidel

Judith R. Saidel is known internationally for the studies she conducts that measure the representation of women in high-ranking public policy positions in state governments across the nation. (Photo Mark Schmidt)

Lining the walls of Judith R. Saidel's office at the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society in Draper Hall are a picture of civil rights pioneer Rev. Anna H. Shaw and a women's suffrage poster from the turn of the 20th century. For Saidel, these are the signs of how far women have come in the United States, but also reminders of how much work remains to be done. Saidel has spent a great part of her career doing just that, by championing the cause of gender equity for women.

On June 30, she'll start a new phase when she steps down as executive director of the Center. "I have a deep yearning to reflect, conduct research, write, and teach in this last phase of my professional life, to experience fully the more reflective dimensions of the role of a university professor," said Saidel, who will return half-time to the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy as an associate professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy.

Saidel will be honored on June 17 with the Women of Excellence Distinguished Career Award from the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce. A place on her office wall will need to be reserved for this prize, to go along with other honors she has received during her tenure at the Center, including the 1996 Bread and Roses Award, given for furthering the cause of women on campus, and the Distinguished Alumna Award in Public Affairs and Policy in 2001.

The Center is one of UAlbany's premier research and social action entities. It works to advance gender equity, strengthen public policy leadership, and encourage civic engagement. It is perhaps best known for its Women and Public Policy Fellowship program, which has trained 268 alumnae fellows – including Saidel and her successor at the Center Dina Refki - to work in government or as public policy activists.

"The Center, under Judith's tireless leadership, has been a leader in many of the most important policy issues affecting women," said Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy Dean Jeffrey D. Straussman. "This high-profile position of the Center is due in no small measure to Judith's energy, intellect, and dogged persistence. To say that she is a role model for others is an understatement."

Saidel is known internationally for the studies she conducts that measure the representation of women in high-ranking public policy positions in state governments across the country. In 2004, Saidel's report on how women's share of top executive appointments in state governments had dropped in the last two years caught the eye of then U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, and led to news reports around the world. Other studies on minority appointments and women in state leadership posts achieved similar international media coverage, drawing attention to the significant gaps that continue to persist in most U.S. state governments.

Saidel started her career as a high school history and social studies teacher. But a desire to further her education led her to begin work toward a second master's degree at UAlbany in 1983, the first one earned in 1973.

"One had to be willing to take a risk," said Saidel. Her oldest son was just about to go off to college at the time, and "it wasn't my turn" to spend the family resources. Then, she won a Presidential Fellowship, a very competitive grant. "The Department made it financially possible to support my doctoral studies," said Saidel, who earned her doctorate in 1990. "Without it, I wouldn't be here today at the University."

Saidel began her career at the Center, ironically, as an unpaid volunteer on the Center's pay equity study for NYS government.

"When I read about the study in the newspaper in the mid-80s, I was so struck by the radical potential of the notion of pay equity to address the structural inequalities of our wage system that I volunteered to be a research aide," Saidel said. "To me the experience was worth more than cash."

The Center has accomplished much under Saidel’s direction, including:
• Pioneering research on women's workplace issues.
• Completing the public record on the gender, race, and ethnicity of appointed policy makers in the 50 states
• Raising awareness and promoting cultural and linguistic access to healthcare
• Filling the pipelines of women's leadership
• Nurturing the values of academic freedom at UAlbany
• Empowering youth and fostering positive youth development and,
• Delivering education programs to delegations of women from Russia, Macedonia, and Kosovo.

Saidel has also spent much time charting an equitable strategic direction for the region's economic development. The May 29 Tech Valley Futures event is the Center's latest chapter of this endeavor.  “It’s important to address the human side of economic development," said Saidel. This lesson was learned from a major case study she co-authored of the tech-driven boom and post-boom period in Austin, Texas.

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