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Male Faculty ‘Ambassadors’ Promote Gender Equity in the STEM Fields

Women of science and male ambassadors get together in the Life Sciences Research Building. Left to right, Kristen Corbosiero of DAES, Ken Halvorsen of the RNA Institute, Edelgard Wulfert, former CAS dean, of Psychology, and Andy Berglund of Biology. (Photo by Patrick Dodson) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 11, 2020) — While making slow progress, women faculty are still underrepresented in the STEM fields at UAlbany. Given this reality, one group of women faculty is promoting the need to advance gender equity on campus with active participation from male faculty.

This was reflected in a recent panel discussion of “male ambassadors” hosted on Feb. 3 by the campus group Women in Science and Health (WISH). Five male participants pledged a more active role in achieving gender equity among faculty in science and health fields.

Organized by WISH’s steering committee, the event convened Professor Andy Berglund of Biology and director of the RNA Institute; James Dias, vice president for Research; Keith Earle, associate professor and chair of Physics; James Boswell, associate professor of Psychology; and Prashanth Rangan, associate professor of Biology.

“It was a very important meeting with lots of positive energy,” said Distinguished Professor of Biology Marlene Belfort, who established WISH in 2014 along with then Arts & Sciences Dean and current Professor of Psychology Edelgard Wulfert. “Having these male allies help address gender equity felt like an excellent step forward for the campus.”

Wulfert, a member of WISH’s steering committee, served as moderator of the panel, which dealt with such topics as what the primary challenges are facing women in STEM disciplines; what strategies men can employ to promote gender equality in the workplace; and what factors most limit men’s engagement as gender-equity advocates.

“It was an animated conversation about what the five male panelists viewed as some of the major challenges that women face in the workplace,” Wulfert said. “Women in STEM fields are significantly underrepresented on our campus. To advance gender equality, we seek to build a campus-wide network of male ambassadors and allies who will help us promote an equitable environment in which men as well as women and other underrepresented groups can thrive.”

"The panel was the beginning of a long overdue conversation between men in leadership positions and women of all ranks in STEM fields," said Dias, who appreciated that the panel read beforehand an essay on men's role in achieving gender equity by Harvard business professor Debora Spar. "Such published works teach us how women are disadvantaged by intentional or unconscious biases that create career disparities.

"The underlying theme of our discussion was that change is indisputably necessary, but that men have to be part of the change — at least until the gender balance of power is equalized. We as men must take an active role and not rely solely on women to lead this critical work."

Kristen Corbosiero, associate professor & graduate program director of Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences, assessing the event, said, "The ambassadors started an important dialogue about the active role our male colleagues can have in achieving inclusion and diversity goals at UAlbany. It was excellent to hear how these male allies, who represented multiple departments, stages in their careers and positions on campus, have enacted policies in their departments and research groups to increase female participation and inclusivity.

“We have a long way to go to achieving gender equity in the STEM fields,” said Corbosiero, “but with buy-in from more male allies, we are making strides in the right direction."

Berglund also viewed the event positively. “The members of the WISH community were very welcoming during our discussion and raised excellent points in regard to aspects of unconscious or implicit bias that I had not considered previously. A powerful point for me was that we need to do a better of job of encouraging our male colleagues to use paternity leave and to support our male and female colleagues before, during and after their leave.”

A Q&A session with the audience followed the formal panel. There, practical actions were discussed that could be taken to ensure equitable hiring and promotion processes and to remove barriers to women’s advancement.

 

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