Pressing ahead with the gender revolution | News | Palo Alto Online |


Pressing ahead with the gender revolution

Stanford professor works to achieve equality for women, in and out of academia

"Can we move beyond the stalled gender revolution?"

When Stanford University sociology professor and longtime gender scholar Shelley Correll became director of the university's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, she selected this question as the institution's new focus.

"What that phrase refers to is a now very well-established finding in the social sciences that we've stalled out on measures of progress towards gender equality," Correll said in an interview with the Weekly.

Progress began after the 1950s and, following landmark civil rights laws passed, gain momentum in the 1960s: The gender wage gap started closing, more women were entering the paid labor market and, in the 1980s -- when Correll was an undergraduate student -- women were surpassing men in terms of getting bachelor's degrees, she said.

"I thought at the time, 'This is just a matter of time,'" Correll said. Gender scholars started predicting when America would reach gender equality: 2035, according to one book she read frequently.

But in the 1990s, progress slowed. Correll said scholars don't quite understand why, but her take is that while more material changes happened -- like higher rates of women in college and the workforce -- deeper cultural shifts were held back by factors that are harder to probe and change, such as unconscious bias and subtle discrimination.

Despite now being within two decades of the 2035, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find a gender scholar today that would say, 'In 20 years, I think we'll be there,'" Correll said.

Correll has spent her career working toward that point, analyzing gender in the workplace and social psychology. She's well-known for her research on the "motherhood penalty," which found that mothers experience disadvantages at work -- lower pay and perceptional disadvantages that affect their hiring, promotion, evaluations and salary decisions -- in addition to those commonly associated with gender.

Since joining the Stanford faculty in 2008, Correll has turned her eye toward the experience of women and faculty of color on campus. For several years, she has chaired the provost's Panel on Faculty Equity and Quality of Life, a group that periodically conducts surveys to gauge how faculty feel about everything from collegial support and workplace climate to workload and child care policies. Following a campuswide survey the panel conducted in 2008 that found underrepresented minority faculty reported lower rates of support and inclusion, Correll also spearheaded a more in-depth study to better understand the experience of minority faculty at Stanford.

Correll also became engaged in efforts to prevent sexual assault on campus last year, which in an interview she called "the gender issue on college campuses of our time." Though a gender expert, Correll had previously been working mostly with faculty rather than students. Then the university asked her to serve on the high-profile Task Force on Sexual Assault, an 18-member group of faculty, staff, students and other Stanford community members who were charged last summer with the task of recommending reforms to Stanford's sexual-assault policies and procedures.

The task force's work served as a crash course for Correll and propelled her to take a more active role in prevention and education efforts on campus.

"People have said this about sexual assault: Once you start thinking about it, even if you didn't want to, you can't quit thinking about it," she said. "That's certainly been my experience. It's in my head now. And it's a problem right in our own backyard, at Stanford.

"This is a problem that's affecting our students; it's affecting our female students more than our male students; our trans(gender) students more than our cisgender students; our students of color more than white students," she said. "(On) every axis of inequality, this is widening disparities that we otherwise are trying to narrow. It just felt like a conversation that I had to get involved in."

Examining the gaps

Before Correll first arrived at Stanford to obtain a doctorate in sociology, she was a high school chemistry teacher, interning on the side at Dow Chemical Co. in Texas. Her first internship supervisor, a man, told her when she arrived: "This is no place for women."

Correll, who grew up in Houston, was raised to believe in the power of education, despite the fact the neither her police officer father nor stay-at-home mother went to college. Her mother (who Correll said lost her college scholarship after the school found out she had married Correll's father as a senior in high school) was like a "second teacher," constantly buying her books and helping her with her writing.

The key to success was education. To Correll, gender seemed a nonissue. The Dow internship, she said, was her first encounter with the fact that gender inequality still existed.

It piqued her interest in how gender inequality plays out in the workplace, particularly in the science and engineering fields.

The honors chemistry class she was teaching was evenly split between boys and girls, but she said there were notable differences in how students of each gender perceived their achievement. When a male student got a bad grade, he would say something like, "I'm really good at this; I just didn't take the time to study," Correll said. No matter how well female students did in the class, however, they did not think they were good at chemistry.

"Nothing could shatter his confidence that he was good at chemistry, and almost nothing could convince women they were," Correll said.

Her experiences in the classroom and at Dow became the foundation for a graduate dissertation she completed at Stanford in 2001, which looked at "the way that stereotypes about fields affect the extent to which men and women come to see themselves as being skilled in that area," Correll said.

"This became some of my earliest ideas about why this was -- if women in more masculine stereotyped fields see themselves as not having as much skill as men do, they're perhaps going to be less likely to continue on paths towards those careers," she said. "Under what conditions do we see these gaps between men and women?"

Several years later, Correll began her award-winning "motherhood penalty" research while teaching at Cornell University. She and other researchers conducted a study in which paid undergraduate student-volunteers were told a company was searching for a person to head its new marketing department and were interested in feedback from a younger demographic. The participants rated a pair of equally qualified, same-gender (either male or female), same-race (either African-American or white) fictitious job applicants, who were presented as real and who had different parental status. Whether or not they were parents was subtly indicated on resumes or cover letters, such as a parent who listed involvement with a Parent Teacher Association.

"The laboratory experiment evaluates the hypothesis that the 'motherhood penalty' on wages and evaluations of workplace performance and suitability occurs, at least partially, because cultural understandings of the motherhood role exist in tension with the cultural understandings of the 'ideal worker' role," the study report states.

The experiment validated their hypothesis. Participants viewed mothers as significantly less competent and committed than women without children. They recommended a starting salary for mothers that was $11,000, or 7.4 percent, less than that offered to nonmothers. Mothers were also rated as "significantly less promotable and were less likely to be recommended for management," the study reads.

While participants recommended 84 percent of female applicants without children for hire, they recommended a significantly lower percentage of mothers: 47 percent.

The motherhood penalty is alive and well in Silicon Valley, Correll said.

After she gave a talk recently at a local tech company, both men and women waited in line to talk with her about their professional experiences. Even men told her that despite their companies offering generous parental-leave policies, it's looked down upon to actually take advantage of them.

"One guy in particular said he was planning to take the full amount of parental leave and his teammates said, 'All of it?'" Correll said.

A spotlight on Stanford

After Correll arrived at Stanford in 2008, she turned her eye toward improving the workplace climate there, particularly for women and faculty of color. Only 22 percent of full, tenured professors at Stanford are women, and in 2013, there were only 133 underrepresented minority faculty members, according to the university.

Correll led the Panel on Faculty Equity and Quality of Life in conducting a campuswide climate survey in 2008 that found that female and minority faculty felt they had less voice than their white male counterparts in the decision-making that affects the direction of their department. Only 58 percent of women compared to 72 percent of men somewhat or strongly agreed that they had a voice in their department.

Male and female faculty also diverged in their sense of collegial support -- in other words, how much they feel valued, respected and included by their colleagues. With the exception of the Law School, female faculty reported lower collegial support among the various schools and divisions, with significant gender differences in the Graduate School of Business, School of Humanities and Sciences and Medicine-Clinical Sciences, the survey found.

"Unfortunately, Stanford, especially in my School, is still an old boys club. ... I am embarrassed to be a part of this most of the time," a white male engineering professor stated in the survey.

"Work on hiring women, tenuring them, and moving them into genuine leadership positions. .... Progress has been made but much more needs to be done," a white female Humanities and Sciences associate professor said.

Differences in how female and minority faculty are treated persist at Stanford, Correll said.

But progress has been made as well, university-wide. Today, three out of Stanford's seven schools are lead by female deans: the Law School, School of Engineering (whose current dean, Persis Drell, was the first woman to head the school) and School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. (Deans are appointed by the provost and president on the advice of committees they appoint, and are Provost's Office initiatives

managed by the Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity and the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.)

Stanford has long undertaken many initiatives to combat the inequality. There's the Faculty Diversity Initiative, which provides extra funding for underrepresented faculty, and the Faculty Incentive Fund, a diversity recruitment program. Each of Stanford's seven schools has an appointed "diversity officer." The office of the vice provost for graduate education makes funding available to support student organizations' projects and events that advance graduate student diversity. The DARE (Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence) Doctoral Fellowship Program offers two-year fellowships to underrepresented graduate students with an eye toward diversifying the faculty pipeline, Correll said.

"It's not a good situation when, say, a woman faculty member of color is in a place on campus where she never sees any other faculty of color," she said. "It's not good for our students."

For its part, the Clayman Institute conducts wide-ranging research, brings in speakers, holds conferences and offers fellowships that all contribute to the broader goal of moving beyond a stalled gender revolution. In 2012, the Clayman Institute also established the Voice and Influence Program to empower female faculty at Stanford. (The driving force behind the program is the low number of women in tenure-track and tenured faculty positions at Stanford. Correll said getting more women in as senior faculty is a critical step toward gender equality on campus.)

The Institute has also extended its reach into the surrounding tech world, conducting research on women in technology and launching a "Silicon Valley Thought Leadership Greenhouse" with the goal of "identifying and arming the highest potential thought leaders and thinkers in Silicon Valley with the skills, training, research, access, and close-knit support to dramatically increase the influence of women in defining the future," the program's website reads.

Correll and other Clayman Institute staffers are also conducting research within local technology companies (don't ask which ones; Correll is bound by a nondisclosure agreement) -- identifying areas of gender and/or racial bias or stereotypes and then helping to implement interventions. The goal is to learn what works on the ground in these companies, document that in research and then share it more widely.

Correll is on sabbatical for the spring quarter doing just that, writing a book tentatively titled, "Delivering on Diversity: Eliminating Bias and Spurring Innovation," which traces the history of corporate diversity efforts, explores how stereotypes affect workplace evaluations for men and women and "develops a model of cultural change to move beyond the effects of stereotypes," Correll said. To evaluate this model, she offers case studies of reform efforts at two companies, including a Silicon Valley tech company.

Correll and the Clayman Institute also do consulting with local companies, including VMware in Palo Alto, where they provided training and even brought in a version of the Institute's Voice and Influence program.

'The gender issue of our time'

This year, Correll has brought an additional focus to the Clayman Institute: campus sexual assault.

The Clayman Institute is launching an 18-month speaker symposium this winter called "Breaking the Culture of Sexual Assault." Targeting both students and faculty, the series will bring in a range of people working in and around sexual assault and gender: Jackson Katz, author of "The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help;" Michael Messner, a University of Southern California professor of sociology and gender studies whose work includes a decadeslong "life history" study of male activists working to prevent gender-based violence; and Paula England, a New York University sociology professor who conducted an in-depth Social Life Survey at 21 colleges and universities, including Stanford. There will also be a panel event focused on affirmative consent.

"The idea, for me, is we need to understand the specifics of what's happening at Stanford and we need to respond to that by not simply training students how to not sexually assault each other (or) what to do if they're sexually assaulted but to understand the culture that permits sexual assault to happen and (which has) for so long gone uncriticized," Correll said.

"You've got to identify problems if you're going to solve problems. We need to be open to the fact that we're not doing things as well as we could at Stanford," she said.

Correll recently participated in an Oct. 21 teach-in on a new university climate survey that found only 1.9 percent of all students and 4.7 percent of undergraduate women at Stanford experience sexual assault.

The university "dangerously" fell short, Correll told a crowd of students, in its communication about the survey. A press release announcing the much-anticipated results began with the 1.9 percent figure, though did offer breakdowns by gender and other subgroups.

"The press release should be written to let people know what the dimensions of a problem are so that we can get people motivated to work on it," Correll told the Weekly. "People are not going to get motivated by 1.9 percent."

In addition to the October teach-in, Correll co-organized a faculty panel event last week called "Stanford's Sexual Assault Climate Survey: What Have We Learned? What Do We Need to Know? What Can Faculty Do?"; and co-sponsored a Student Congressional Summit on Sexual Assault that featured Rep. Jackie Speier and four young women, three current students and one recent graduate, who said they were sexually assaulted during their time at Stanford.

She has also requested that more survey analysis be conducted, particularly around female senior students and more racial and ethnic subgroups (the climate survey report only includes subgroup rates for African-American and Native Hawaiian students, and does not break their numbers down by gender) and the university's definitions of sexual assault and misconduct.

At the October teach-in, Correll gave advice to students upset about the climate survey and the administration's handling of sexual assault: Think about the questions that we want to be answered, and then ask for the data to help the university get there; request town hall meetings to discuss sexual assault openly and transparently.

She made similar pleas to faculty at the Nov. 9 panel, urging more faculty involvement.

"The thing I think we really need to do at this juncture is enlist more people and a broader range of people in working on these issues," she told an audience of more than 30 professors and administrators. "To do that, I think we've got to convince people that there is a problem."

The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to

Editor's note: This story incorrectly stated that the Clayman Institute runs the Faculty Diversity Initiative and Faculty Incentive Fund. These programs are run through the provost's office.

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8 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 20, 2015 at 8:41 am

How about looking at it as a supply and demand issue. When women first went
into the workforce, the nearly all male workforce at the time, it was during and
after WWII when men were away at war.

The need to fight WWII changed our country in a lot of good ways and disrupted,
for its own time, the economy and social structure enough for people to see and
question things that had gone before, but not enough to redefine or change the
realities of our social and economic system.

Women went into the workforce because they liked the extra money that went
towards either their independence, or to raise the living standard of their families.

Women also HAD to go into the workforce at this time due to the upsurge in the
prevalence of divorce and how at the time single women and women head of
household families were ( and I think still are ) the situations that have the most

All of the factors when into creating a labor glut, and long with automation,
immigration, and off-shoring of jobs, factories and tech, have contributed to the
devaluing of all labor, and the rise of the greatest economic inequality since
before the Great Depression at a time when we should be doing much better.

It is not just women, minorities, immigrants that are hurt by the mindless support
and application of raw economic principles over human rights and human values,
but it has not been good for the environment, education or any of our cultures,
except those countries decimated by WWII that were lucky enough to have
changed their political systems and have an active citizenry.

The US did not do that and little by little instead of moving forwards with the
visions we had of economic democracy and allowing the development and
evolution of our representative democracy we cast everything in terms of
defense and laissez-faire dog eat dog capitalism, which the rest of the
democratic developed world has never accepted.

Bernie Sanders Talks Socialism at Georgetown University (11-19-15)
Web Link

With the number of jobs, particularly well-paying jobs that allow for self-
respect and self-determination shrinking, and the pay shrinking to the point
that people who live by the rules and work their whole lives cannot afford
lifestyles that allow them to survive and prosper, our system is not the
most regressive and undemocratic and unequal in the developed world.

Though I sympathize and support the various "oppressed groups" we need to
look at the big picture, and I think it is unfair to make this all about women, race,
religion, gander or any other specific group because it is simply a case of push
the inequality balloon in one place and it pops out again in another place.

If we do not pull everyone along with respect to the major issues of our
day we simply get different groups fighting each other over who can get
the latest new specialty law passed that mostly do not even get enforced
instead of structurally resetting our goal and values as is required if we are
really serious to bring about change.

24 people like this
Posted by Stay at home Mom
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 20, 2015 at 10:20 am

I think it is important to mention that those who choose to stay at home to be with their kids are making just as valid a contribution to the world as those who choose to work.

For many it is not a choice to work or to stay at home. For many they can't choose to do anything else. But for those who make the choice to stay home it is not something to deride them for doing. It is still an honorable decision and equally as fulfilling personally.

I don't like people thinking that I am a second class citizen because I am not holding down a career as well as raising kids. I have just chosen to be a mom full time without the distraction of career.

5 people like this
Posted by MaleMatters
a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2015 at 10:23 am

It has stalled because of its sexism.

"The Doctrinaire Institute for Women's Policy Research: A Comprehensive Look at Gender Equality"

16 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 20, 2015 at 12:10 pm

[Post removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Men tend to take on more dangerous professions; as a result they die on the job about 10 times more often than women do. I hope the good professor has plans to address the "death gap" as well as the "wage gap".

7 people like this
Posted by @Joseph E. Davis
a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2015 at 1:34 pm

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Roger Smith
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2015 at 1:35 am

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

4 people like this
Posted by Vicky
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 21, 2015 at 9:57 am

I wonder if there are differences between children of stay-home mom and working mom. There are many stay-home pops now. What are the performances of their children? Any difference between children of stay-home moms and stay-home pops?

6 people like this
Posted by Melissa
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 21, 2015 at 5:47 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by @Melissa
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2015 at 5:56 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 21, 2015 at 6:10 pm

Melissa brings up a fair and relevant point. The headline of this article is "Pressing ahead with the gender revolution." What do the gender revolutionaries see as their goal? Is that too much to ask?

Like this comment
Posted by @Tim
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2015 at 6:14 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Bunyip
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 22, 2015 at 8:35 am

I am extremely concerns with the increasingly over handed censorship on these messages boards. Does the blog editors have something to fear? A conversation needs opposing views. Deleting all messages that contradict your premise is hardly in line with the first amendment.

pa online is becoming unreadable.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2015 at 8:46 am

Melissa posed a fair question, was polite and several people liked it before it was deleted.

If we are unable to discuss like civilized people, we are in a very poor society.

2 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2015 at 11:17 am

"Melissa posed a fair question, was polite and several people liked it before it was deleted."

Uh, no. What "Melissa" posted was pure poison -- troll bait, really.

And for people like you to actually like that supposed "comment" says more about you that you would want to admit.

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