The Status of Women in the Historical Profession, 2005
Conclusion: What Is to Be Done?
The Department Chair
In many institutions, chairs have a good deal of power when it comes to establishing and maintaining departmental cultures, and responses to our survey make it quite clear that department chairs are critical in terms of women's job satisfaction. As one respondent noted, college or university good intentions notwithstanding, "it is at the department level that the nonsense takes place." In too many instances, a lack of accountability and a dearth of clearly articulated policies breed discrimination and distrust. Much is at stakechairs preside over the distribution of workloads, teaching times, and committee assignments, and they control to varying extents highly prized goods and information, such as salaries, funds for research and travel, internal prizes and awards, and the constitution of tenure and promotion committees.
Chairs can attempt to protect women from disrespectful and punitive undergraduates by discounting negative teaching evaluations; they can see to it that vigorous efforts are made to retain women who have outside offers instead of allowing them to leave, "with the men blaming it on spousal concerns." The cherished informality of some departments can accommodate a good deal of unthinking discrimination and exclusionone woman noted that in her department, policy was made by a "group of men who all eat lunch together." The common practice of the chair consulting "an inner circle of senior men" before bringing issues to the department excludes those who are not already deemed powerful. Even in nominally equitable departments, notes another woman, a male oligarchy can occasionally close ranks. Administrative flexibility and discretion is in many respects useful and necessary, but it can also protect men's historical hold on power. Clearly stated policies, and transparency of administration in the execution of them, can go far toward addressing the biasand the perceptions thereofthat is so corrosive within departments.
Women with a taste for administration should be encouraged to assume positions
of power and influence. One former chair wrote: "I would strongly encourage
any woman with the talent to serve as department chair; it developed leadership
skills I didn't know I had, ones many women don't know they have." The
issue, wrote another, is how to move women into the true senior ranks of the
profession, "rather than to nominally senior status."
July 10, 2008 3:01 PM