Just Causes

Illustration by Torian Parker

Diversity directives are driving the Institute toward equity for all

Archie Ervin knows he has a lot of work to do. Intent on hitting the ground running on his first official day at Georgia Tech on Jan. 3, Ervin has been on campus for meetings to bring him up to speed off and on since he was named the inaugural vice president for Institute Diversity in early October.

President G. P. “Bud” Peterson gave an idea of what is expected of Ervin during remarks at a diversity symposium at Tech in September.

“We will recruit, develop and retain and engage a diverse cadre of students, faculty and staff with a wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives, interests and talents, creating a campus community that exemplifies the best in all of us in our intellectual pursuits, our diversity of thought, our personal integrity and our inclusive excellence,” he said.

Peterson listed some strides Tech has made. About one-third of the student population is female, an all-time high. In this year’s freshman class, African-American enrollment is up 53 percent from the previous year. The number of Hispanic freshmen increased by
63 percent.

However, numbers are not as impressive as the percentages. According to undergraduate enrollment figures in the 2009 fact book, of 13,515 students, 8,485 were white, 2,953 were Asian, 873 were black and 734 were Hispanic.

On the faculty front, Peterson said over the last four years the number of African-American faculty has increased 25 percent, and Hispanic faculty is up 58 percent. The 2009 fact book figures show of 930 full-time faculty members, there were only 28 Hispanics and 32 blacks. Asians accounted for 194 faculty members. There were 670 white full-time faculty members — more than double all nonwhite teachers combined.

In welcoming members of the Atlanta Diversity Managers’ Affinity Group to a late October luncheon at the Georgia Tech Hotel, Peterson again stressed that diversity is “very, very important” to the Institute.

“We provide more African-American engineers, more women engineers and the second largest number of Hispanic engineering graduates of any institution in the country. We’re continuing to try and build on that success,” Peterson said. “I look forward to the time when we do not any longer need a chief diversity officer, where we recognize that diversity is an important part of every person’s job at the Institute,” Peterson told the group.

‘Uneven Access to Equal Opportunity’

Ervin was at that luncheon. He wasn’t rattled by Peterson’s hope that his job someday would be obsolete.

“We are challenged by overcoming our past. Our past is so long that our best hope is that we can make incremental progress along the way and make things better,” Ervin said during a break between meetings in his new French Building office in mid-November. “I don’t see where everything will be resolved. We’re on this stage for a very short period of time considering the order of things. The reason we talk about diversity period is because we are a society that has had uneven access to equal opportunity in all areas of human endeavor.”

Ervin pointed to Tech’s aspiration to be a leading 21st century technological university, one the world will turn to for answers to its toughest questions. “We’re not going to be that university unless we have the greatest talent of the world here. If we can’t be the best and the brightest irrespective of individual differences, we won’t be that,” he said.

“I’m very aware of the differences in access to opportunities,” Ervin said. “I see higher education first and foremost as the greatest leveler in society, and I see higher education as offering the greatest hope for humankind to be successful, because it is at this level of thinking that we really tackle the great issues of our time. This is where I want the greatest intellect brought to bear.”

Ervin said he resigned from his post as the associate provost for diversity and multicultural affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because of the leadership vision at Georgia Tech.

“I saw a leadership vision that dared to be bold, that said it wanted to be among the international leaders in addressing human needs. Part of that was to be able to capture the talent of the world and bring them to Georgia Tech to be that source of knowledge. Georgia Tech was committed to this, and I wanted to get in on the ground level. I left a very comfortable situation and, by all estimates outside of mine, a very successful tenure to take this chance to be a part of the new boldness,” he said.

“I believe that equity knows no boundaries. I don’t think it’s a gender-specific thing or race specific. What is right is right,” Ervin said. “You try to give every opportunity for individuals to be successful and to eliminate any artificial barriers to that.”

He said his job at Tech is to create “an overarching responsibility for achieving the objectives of an inclusive and equitable community.”

To do that, Ervin is assembling a team that will help him create an Institute-wide report on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion.

“I don’t think you can honestly” study all the issues dispassionately, Ervin said. “I do try very hard — very hard — not to put Archie in charge of values. I keep myself centered by saying, ‘I’m not the person who judges you. I can listen to you.’

“I was raised during a segregated time, effectively, in North Carolina. I went to an all-black school until I was in the seventh grade, then public integration of the schools occurred that next year,” Ervin said. “That shaped me because I perceived there were some things in life that didn’t seem fair to me, and so I began a lifelong quest.”

Making Advances for Men and Women

Mary Frank Fox, the ADVANCE professor in the School of Public Policy within the Ivan Allen College and co-director of the Center for the Study of Women, Science & Technology, has dedicated her research to the work force in science and academia.

“I came to Tech [in 1993] because of the opportunities that looked to be available for focusing on issues of scientific personnel in the workplace. It turned out that that has been the case. At Georgia Tech, soon after I got here, I co-founded the nation’s first curricular program in the study of women, science and technology,” Fox said. “I also co-founded the first learning community at Georgia Tech, which was on women, science and technology, and the Center for the Study of Women, Science & Technology. So it was the case that Georgia Tech was open to research on these issues and to policies and practices, based on the research, that would lead to enhanced participation of both men and women.”

The NSF launched the ADVANCE initiative to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering.

“The rationale for the program was that individual solutions were not working,” Fox said. “It isn’t really a problem of women falling short in their training, background, capabilities, but it is an issue more primarily of the features and characteristics of the places in which people work. What do you find when you get to the workplace?

“That is what I have been working on my whole life. When ADVANCE came along, it was in line with what I had been doing and the focus of my research program,” said Fox, who has three sociology degrees from the University of Michigan. “I can tell you that as a professor, when I began, women in science and engineering was barely a topic.”

Fox took the lead writing the proposal, and in 2001 Georgia Tech was one of nine institutions to receive an ADVANCE grant. The Institute’s award was $3.7 million over five years. The ADVANCE program at Tech helped bring about the development of a modified duty plan that allows faculty and staff to reduce their job responsibilities for family reasons, including the birth or adoption of a child or the care of a parent, Fox said, also crediting the NSF grant with the opening of a day-care center for Tech employees’ children and more than half a dozen lactation centers on campus; enhancing equity in tenure and promotion; and establishing the ADVANCE professors.

Room for Improvement

Although the grant funds are gone, the Institute has continued funding ADVANCE professors in each of Tech’s six colleges.

“Part of the responsibilities of the ADVANCE professor are to build community among the women on the faculty and to support faculty development in the college,” according to Fox, who said the six ADVANCE professors meet monthly to address cross-college issues. She believes ADVANCE has helped with the promotion of women into senior ranks at the Institute.

“I am very proud that Georgia Tech is one of the very few institutions with ADVANCE awards that have addressed tenure and promotion. Georgia Tech is one of the few institutions with an NSF Advance award that’s really gone to the heart of the matter,” Fox said.

“That doesn’t mean that Georgia Tech doesn’t have room for improvement — like other universities also have room for improvement,” she said. “My aspiration is that Georgia Tech be a leader in the advancement of faculty and that it lead the way in equitable processes for the advancement of faculty and that this be a hallmark of Georgia Tech.

“We are moving in the right direction. It takes continuing commitment. It takes continuing attention. It takes continuing involvement. It takes continuing positive practices,” Fox said. “I have been working on these issues as a lifelong commitment, and I have seen progress. Has progress occurred as quickly as it might? No. But it has occurred, and I am encouraged.”

Shared Concerns

Fox has served on the National Center for Women & Information Technology advisory board since it was initiated in 2004. She attends national meetings annually to address the lack of women in computing.

“Even the physical sciences have shown significant improvement in the participation of women. Physics, which has had an underrepresentation of women, has a positive trend line. But women’s participation in computing has just been sort of flat,” Fox said. “There appear to be issues about people’s perceptions about the field, about the culture of success in computing. People have perceptions that field is asocial and that it doesn’t connect with human dimensions.”

Lucinda Sanders, CEO of NCWIT, was a panelist at the September diversity symposium. She said women’s participation in
computing has been declining since the mid-’80s.

“In fact, when you look at the truly innovative roles that we have in areas of computing, women are not faring very well,” she said. “They contribute less than 2 percent of all open-source software. This is shocking to me and should be shocking to you.”

She said women start fewer than 5 percent of all information technology companies and hold fewer than 5 percent of leadership jobs in computing. “Clearly women are not participating in the creation of technology.”

Seventy-nine percent of information technology patents generated at Tech are from all-male teams; 3 percent from all female; and 18 percent from teams of mixed gender, according to Sanders. She advised Tech’s administration to make the Institute “the place that is known for women to come for a top-notch education. … I’d like to come back in a few years and see that ranking on your Web site. All the pieces are here.”

Ellen Zegura, chair of Tech’s School of Computer Science, said the Computing faculty roster shows a “pretty impressive number of women, including women in full professor roles. … Our numbers for female students are actually very weak, so in some ways we may have an opposite problem to what Engineering has, where the student body diversity is very strong but perhaps as you move up the ranks of the faculty you start to see more of a problem.”

Family Friendliness

Gender pay equity is a subject of discussion on campus as it is across the nation and across professions, said Pearl Alexander, Tech’s senior director of human resources and diversity management.

“I think we are, from what I can tell across industries, doing about the same. But here’s the deal: Across industries, women are still not paid equitably when it comes to their male counterparts. It’s one of my soapboxes, actually, because I believe that the reason that is is because we still are using compensation systems that are largely designed by white males,” Alexander said.

Through a partial tuition reimbursement program for employees, Alexander earned bachelor’s and law degrees while working at Georgia Tech, where she has been for more than 20 years.

“I did raise my daughter mostly as a single parent. Shortly after getting here to Georgia Tech, I became divorced and had to make those adjustments — go to school, take care of home, try to keep your career on some kind of an even keel,” she said.

Alexander’s efforts in faculty and staff retention include looking at ways to help Tech employees balance their work and family

“Should we be doing something different for the people who are here at Georgia Tech like having a charter school or a high school?” she asked. “I think if you want to be really competitive that’s a perfect example of how we could attract some of the best women and men — be more family friendly. We may actually move down this path toward a work-live-play community, and I think that would be a huge benefit for us.”

Although her two children now are grown, Ivan Allen College Dean Jacqueline Jones Royster “absolutely” remembers the pangs of maternal guilt she felt as a working mother. Royster shared some of the thoughts that went through her head. “‘What are they going to think of me?’ ‘I don’t bake cookies.’ ‘I can’t take them to the park at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.’ ‘I’m sometimes too busy to have these really sustained conversations. They can tell I’m not paying attention.’

“I have laughed with my grown kids now on more than one occasion about whether they thought they had a good childhood,” she said. “I didn’t just walk away from those responsibilities. I orchestrated my life and, in many instances, didn’t get a whole lot of sleep because I was trying to keep all those balls in the air at once.”

Royster said she never was passed up for committee appointments or job duties because she was a working mother.

“I have seen that happen to other women, but sometimes it helps to be pushy and a loudmouth,” she said. “I guess because I tried to be fleet of foot in managing work and home, people were not as distracted as they might have been by the fact that I was a working mom.

“I certainly felt the power differential between being a woman in the work force and being a man in the work force,” she said, explaining that most women have another full-time job of managing the household when they get home.

“Do we have the commitment to pay attention to the actual lived experiences of women in the work force? Do we have the commitment to respond to those conditions in a systemic and systematic way? That, to me, is a kind of gender diversity. But the same goes for racial diversity or disabilities or for language diversity. Do we have a calendar that recognizes holidays other than Christian holidays?” she asked.

Taking the Long View

The Ivan Allen College dean only since September, Royster said she doesn’t know Tech’s answers to these questions.

“But there are some basic questions that I can always ask. This is a university where engineering, science and technology have dominated for over a hundred years. What does it mean that in 2010 27 percent of the faculty are women? Does that say something about the number of women who are available to be here? Does it say something about trajectories of success and participation in success after they get here?

“The thing to acknowledge about the United States it that substantive social change has been incremental, and in order to gain a true sense of transformation, you really have to have long vision,” Royster said. “We can look at 1960, for example, and 2010 and say, ‘Hmm, we’ve made considerable progress at Georgia Tech in terms of the participation of women in this environment.’ Some of the old photographs tell you that.

“When you flesh all that out, there are things that need to be done — still. There are patterns of disregard that need to be handled — still. There are patterns of participation and involvement that need to be addressed — still,” she said. “Diversity is a verb and not just a noun. You have to think about what actions are being systematically applied and sustained in order to build that sense of transformative change.

“I always invite people to take the long view,” Royster continued. “When you really look at the difference between 2010 and, say, 1710, have we made a difference? You’re doggone skippy we have. When you look at the difference between 2010 and 1810 or 1910, is there a difference in the quality of life for women in this country and internationally? Yes. Is it consistently available or applied? No. Is there any sector where we’re done? No.”

‘A Perfect Storm’

Royster granted that human beings have been “slow learners about how we foment positive change and how we sustain that change. … I always hope that we can find ways to go in overdrive, and I always hope we don’t have to spend time reinventing all the wheels all the time. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest we have had a hard time taking those kinds of lessons in.”

Still, Royster is hopeful change is possible.

“It’s hard to exhibit any kind of difference and not feel the impact and consequences of whatever that difference is — whether you’re a tall person, whether you’re a redhead, whether you’re a woman, whether you’re a black person, whether you are a Muslim. The question is whether noticing will make a difference in our behavior, in our expectations, in our valuing. I remain hopeful in this kind of sci-fi way that one day we will have a society in which our differences won’t matter so much.”

Gordon Moore, Mgt 92, MS Mgt 97, director of the Office of Minority Educational Development at Tech, reported on the campus climate during the diversity symposium.

“I think a perfect storm is happening. The thing about perfect storms is we can all die or we can take advantage of it,” Moore joked. “We have our first Hispanic provost [Rafael Bras]. We have our first black dean [Royster]. We have our first black male SGA president [Corey Boone], who also has a Hispanic executive vice president [Brenda Morales]. There are a lot of wonderful things getting ready to happen.”

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