Happy Women’s History Month!

The world-wide celebration of Women’s History Month began in 1917, when March 8 was initially earmarked as International Women’s Day. Under President Jimmy Carter, a 1980 proclamation recognized National Women’s History Week, which the U.S. Congress, in 1987, used a law to rename as “Women’s History Month” in March of each year.  Celebrating Women’s History Month on our campus is an opportunity to recognize and also celebrate the progress that the UO is making in leveraging equity and anti-discrimination as important tools in building a thriving and flourishing campus.

This academic year, we are especially proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Center on the Study of Women in Society (CSWS), led by Professor Sangita Gopal. CSWS has been championing feminist scholarship at the university for five decades, with a mission to “create, fund, share and support research that addresses the complicated nature of gender identities and inequalities.” To learn more about the history and work of CSWS, as well as upcoming events in honor of its 50th anniversary, click here.
Admirably, one area in which our university has made important progress is in the appointment of women as department heads across our Schools and Colleges. Based on Office the Provost data, back in 2011, women held only about a third of the department head positions at the University of Oregon, primarily in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In the Natural Sciences, there were no women department heads. Fast forward to 2024, and 40% of all department heads are women, while 50% of the Natural Science department heads are women (data provided by Austin Hocker, Assistant Vice Provost for Data and Decision Support in the UO Office of the Provost). Given the important roles that department heads play in administering, teaching, research, and service in their units, the real and the perceived impact of their work makes a difference in how faculty, staff and students experience the worlds of learning and working.
At the same time, it is very relevant to point out that the rise of women in positions of leadership at UO is also occurring at a time when resources across the U.S. Academy are generally strained, coupled with the fact that the demands for support from department heads is at an all-time high. That, indeed, is an important aspect of where gender equity comes into play. Therefore, UO and other institutions of higher learning must ensure that women serving as department heads and in other leadership positions have what they need to manage and lead well in these extraordinary times. That certainly includes equitable compensation, professional development opportunities, psychological safety, unvarnished truth telling, organizational accountability and love, just to name a few.
Furthermore, Deans, Provosts and other more senior leaders should endeavor to assess what it means for women to serve as department heads and either to restructure or improve on existing policies, processes and norms in a manner that empowers them to lead as well as care in different ways from previous types of leadership. Specifically, Deans and Provosts must be willing and ready to partner with women department heads to address, for example, bias, insubordination, and defiance that some campus women leaders are reported to experience, often due to their gender. It is also helpful to put in place policies that support myriad aspects of dependent care, to embed ongoing and appropriate salary equity reviews in normal personnel review processes and to recognize scholarship and creative activity that empowers a critical gender equity lens at the intersection of myriad identities. In so doing, we encourage women to lead LACEfully, in loving, authentic, courageous, and empathetic ways that can transform the UO into a more thriving and flourishing place to learn, work and lead.
For Women’s History Month to be meaningful, all of us must empower gender equity as part of everything that we do.

LACEfully, Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh.