Campus & Community

Harvard Task Forces on Women release findings and recommendations

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Harvard’s Task Forces on Women Faculty and on Women in Science and Engineering, appointed three months ago to address concerns of women faculty and women in science throughout the University, today released reports calling for large-scale changes in the way the University recruits faculty and supports women and underrepresented minorities pursuing academic careers.

Emphasizing the need for prompt, but sustained, action by the University, the Task Forces propose a series of reforms and enhancements to the way women pursuing science and engineering are treated at every point along the “pipeline” from undergraduates, to graduate students, to post-doctoral fellows, to the faculty ranks. In addition, they propose various measures to enhance the diversity of the faculty ranks at Harvard across all fields and to improve the climate and prospects for faculty once on campus. A centerpiece of the recommendations is the appointment of a Senior Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development – a new position to be created in the University’s central administration to oversee faculty appointments processes, with a particular charge to increase the representation of women and other under-represented groups within Harvard.

“At the outset of this effort, I stated that this was a moment of great opportunity for Harvard,” said Drew Gilpin Faust, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and Lincoln Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who was asked by President Lawrence H. Summers to join with Provost Steven E. Hyman in leading the Task Force efforts. “The Task Forces have produced recommendations that promise to transform not only opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities at Harvard, but the culture of the entire University community. It is important to recognize that the issues addressed in these reports are deep seated, and progress will require continuing attention and sustained commitment for many years to come.”

“These recommendations will receive our most careful consideration,” said President Summers. “Because they address fundamental issues about the way we conduct our core academic business, they have the power to make Harvard not only more welcoming and diverse, but a stronger and more excellent university overall. We will begin immediately to implement certain of the proposals that are fully developed and to explore those that require further analysis.”

“In recognition of the importance and far-reaching nature of these recommendations, the University will commit $50 million over the next decade to support the proposed initiatives,” Summers continued. “Meanwhile, we will conduct the feasibility and cost analyses that will enable us to further shape and implement the proposals. There is no doubt that these initiatives will require significant additional expenditures. But I want to make clear at the outset that this is a serious effort calling for a serious commitment of resources.”

Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation James R. Houghton echoed Summers’ support for the Task Force efforts: “Harvard is strongly committed to enhancing opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities, and these recommendations will help the University take major steps toward that crucial goal, in ways that strengthen both our academic enterprise and our sense of community. With my colleagues on the Corporation, I want to thank the Task Force members, and everyone else involved, for all they have done to advance this important effort and for the many constructive ideas set forth in the reports.”

Task Force on Women Faculty

The Task Force on Women Faculty was chaired by Evelynn Hammonds, Professor of History of Science and of African and African-American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and included members from every Faculty within the University. It was charged with making recommendations for a series of institutional measures to strengthen the recruitment, support, and advancement of outstanding women faculty in the University. Key recommendations include:

  • Senior Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development. This new central administration position will work with the President and Provost to oversee faculty appointments throughout the University and to create initiatives aimed at increasing diversity and promoting gender and racial/ethnic equity among University faculty. The Senior Vice Provost will also work closely with individual Deans to support their efforts to recruit and retain outstanding and diverse faculties.
  • The Creation of a Faculty Development and Diversity Fund and a Special Assistance Fund. The first fund will provide partial salary support for new appointments of outstanding scholars who contribute to increased faculty diversity. The second fund will provide financial support, as needed, for start-up and other costs (such as lab set up, research funds, dual-career funding) related to the hiring and settlement of new faculty who add to faculty diversity;
  • University-wide Data Collection. The University will undertake systematic collection and reporting of data on faculty hiring and retention, and other measures. Such data are critical to effective assessment of University practices. In addition, it will use “climate surveys” of faculty at all ranks to make qualitative assessments of their experience, concerns, and perspectives.
  • A Dual Career Program. The program will assist the spouses/partners of potential and current faculty members at Harvard in their job searches.
  • Enhancement of Benefits to Support Work/Family Balance. Adopt “best practices” in areas designed to improve work/life balance, including enhancing maternity leave policies, increasing financial support for, and availability of, child care, and adjusting “tenure clocks” and leave policies for faculty with children or other family responsibilities.

“Until now, Harvard has made only limited progress in realizing gender equity and diversity within its Faculties,” said Task Force Chair Evelynn Hammonds. “The Task Force has identified many areas in which we can and must do better. These recommendations stand as a challenge to the University. They are a beginning and not an end. The University must now provide the leadership and commit the necessary resources to ensure that these recommendations are fully implemented. Fulfilling this promise is critical to recruiting, developing and nurturing the best faculty in the world and to sustaining Harvard’s place as a leading university in American higher education.”

Task Force on Women in Science and Engineering

The Task Force on Women in Science and Engineering was chaired by Barbara J. Grosz, Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Dean of Science at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. This task force included members drawn from the three Schools and Faculties at Harvard engaged in science and engineering – the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Medical School, and the School of Public Health. Through working groups, it consulted with women and men in science at various career stages throughout these Schools. The Task Force was asked to analyze and make recommendations concerning effective ways to build and sustain the “pipeline” of women pursuing academic careers in science, from undergraduate studies to graduate and postdoctoral work to advancement through faculty ranks. Key recommendations include:

  • Harvard Summer Undergraduate Research Program and Study Centers for Introductory Science Courses. These programs will provide students with opportunities to participate in the collaborative environments of research teams, small group problem-solving and study that are essential to increasing interest and sustaining commitment to science careers. The summer program will make on-campus housing available for students participating in scientific research with Harvard faculty and will include evening enrichment programs, such as scientific seminars and workshops on applying to graduate school.
  • Mentoring and Advising. The task force recommends a series of formal mechanisms for oversight, mentoring, and professional development for graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and junior faculty as well as improvements in advising for freshmen interested in science concentrations.
  • The Creation of Research-Enabling and Career-Transition Funds. Research-enabling funds will provide grants to scientists with dependent-care responsibilities to enable more efficient and effective research. The career-transition funds will support individuals through key transition points in academic science careers from postdoctoral through senior faculty levels. A Dependent Care Fund will assist individuals with primary dependent-care responsibilities to participate in scientific conferences.
  • Leadership Development and Diversity. A program on leadership, focusing on diversity-related issues, will be developed for use at the summer 2005 retreat of the President, Provost and Deans. Over the longer term, programs on diversity and leadership for all department and search committee chairs will be implemented.

“It is crucial not only for Harvard, but for the nation, to attract talented women to careers in science. But to do so, women need to see careers in science as desirable and realistic life choices,” said Task Force Chair Barbara J. Grosz. “Our proposals are designed to provide financial and other kinds of support at key points in the pipeline to enable individuals who have chosen scientific careers to sustain them and to demonstrate to others that such careers are viable. We can’t afford to continue losing talent to obstacles that we have the means to overcome.”

“We are planning major investments in science at Harvard,” said Provost Steven E. Hyman. “It goes without saying that the most important investments we can make are in the lives and careers of the scientists themselves. By improving the prospects and support for scientists at every career stage, the recommendations of the WISE Task Force are a crucially important means of enhancing the scientific enterprise itself.”

Comment Period and Implementation

A public comment period on the Task Force reports and recommendations will extend through June 30, 2005 to accommodate input from members of the University community and the public. Comments should be submitted to

Implementation of certain recommendations will begin immediately, including — launching a search for the Senior Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development; preparing a leadership development program focusing on issues of diversity for the summer retreat of the President, Provost, and Deans; planning for study centers for students in undergraduate science courses and the Summer Undergraduate Research Program; and preparing for the launch of the “COACHE” climate survey for junior faculty, developed by a research team in our Graduate School of Education, to be administered in the Fall, 2005.

With respect to the remaining recommendations, the University will further refine various recommendations and consider the overall balance, cost and feasibility (in terms of legal, pragmatic, and resource concerns) of the proposals. The President, Provost and Deans will work closely together to determine whether and how specific measures may best be implemented in individual Schools and Faculties. A transition committee, consisting of task force chairs Barbara J. Grosz and Evelynn Hammonds, and Drew Gilpin Faust, will be available, as necessary, for consultation during this process.