Gender Equity Guidelines for Department Chairs

Issues related to gender equity in the academy are significant not only for women faculty but for their departments, their institutions, and for the academic community. Women comprise a significant proportion of faculty in higher education, and if we do not provide women with equity, we risk losing a critical pool of talented individuals. (See AAUP Faculty Gender Equity Indicators 2006.)

Women faculty members often report several factors that contribute to a lack of gender equity on their campuses, including:

  • Unsatisfactory hiring practices.
  • Unclear policies about negotiating starting salaries or other start-up benefits.
  • Inadequate explanation of, or access to, relevant information about university expectations and practices regarding tenure and promotion.
  • Lack of appropriate mentoring.
  • Unwillingness to accommodate family needs into academic life. 

This document provides guidelines that department chairs may follow in order to create a supportive and equitable academic environment for all faculty members, but particularly for women faculty in their departments.

In order to offer adequate support to all faculty members, department chairs should have access to appropriate policies and practices that ensure equity and equitable treatment. Training that would be most useful to supporting women faculty focuses on matters such as recruitment and hiring, faculty career management and development, and evaluation of faculty who have taken family and/or medical leave.


There are three critical principles of effective leadership for department chairs to implement. The first is transparency—“making all kinds of information available and easy to find.” The second is uniformity—“leveling the field and dealing equitably with all faculty members, offering mentoring and other types of help,” and the third is assistance—“giving attention to the needs of faculty.” (See University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Principles for Best Practices.)

  • By incorporating principles of transparency, uniformity, and assistance into the development of departmental policies and practices, a department chair can help create an environment in which faculty members will flourish.
  • Systematic problems that compromise institutional effectiveness are often reflected in gender issues.
  • Intervention on gender issues must occur throughout the academic pathway from undergraduates to postdoctoral fellows to faculty members.
  • Leadership is critical to implementing change or addressing problematic practices.

Questions for department chairs to consider:

  • Are institutional policies on hiring, retention, reappointment, tenure, promotion, discrimination, and sexual harassment equitable?
  • Is the faculty aware of these policies?
  • If so, how is the faculty made aware of these policies? Are they readily available in a faculty handbook? Are they addressed in orientation for new faculty members? Are they reviewed periodically by departments and university offices?
  • Are these policies followed within the department?
  • How well do the policies work?
  • How effective are department chairs, deans, and vice presidents in implementing these policies?

Hiring Practices

  • Delete gender-specific terms from position descriptions or job advertisements.
  • Ensure that search and hiring processes comply with equal employment opportunity requirements.
  • Broaden descriptions of position qualifications to recruit from a wider pool.
  • Do not penalize candidates for “resume gaps” that coincide with childbearing and childrearing years.
  • Send advertisements to organizations that are receptive to broad audiences, including women and minorities.
  • Select search committee members who are sensitive to gender equity issues.
  • Create inclusive search procedures that allow input from women, staff, and students from both majority and underrepresented groups.

Legal Resources: Title VII, Title IX, EEO
Other Resources:

Faculty Career Management and Development: Retention and Mentoring

“Retention efforts, when applied equitably to all faculty, can improve the general climate for everyone and can lead to better productivity and greater satisfaction for all faculty. Faculty retention is critical to the health of a University department both for morale reasons and also for economic reasons, as faculty replacement costs tend to be much higher than retention costs."

  • Make connections with new faculty to facilitate their integration into the campus community.
  • Consider conducting a second orientation or “reorientation” for new faculty members at the end of their second year when some information might make more sense or seem less overwhelming to them than at the beginning of their appointments.
  • Encourage rotation on different committees both to help orient the new faculty member but also to provide fresh perspectives for committees.
  • Provide advice as to which campus committees are the most rewarding for newer faculty by providing leadership opportunities or increased recognition.
  • Mentor new teachers with classroom visits and timely feedback.
  • Provide faculty development workshops (such as those dealing with problematic students, advisement, etc.).
  • Guard against heavy teaching responsibilities, including those requiring multiple new class preparations, in the first few years.
  • Explain the review process and provide guidelines on institutional expectations.
  • Provide clear information on faculty development opportunities.

The procedures for mentoring faculty vary by discipline and institution type, but the importance of mentoring to the success of faculty is widely recognized. The advice and support of colleagues has been shown to be particularly important to the success of women. It is critical to establish and communicate formal institutional policies, rather than to make individual, ad hoc arrangements.

  • Depending on the size of your department, consider involving either multiple mentors or faculty from other departments.
  • Encourage mentors to create bridges into the academic community and to share information about the institutional culture.
  • Use mentors to assist with preparation of renewal, tenure, and promotion materials or with grants and other proposals where appropriate.
  • Recognize mentoring as an important component of departmental service.

Work and Family Balance

Creating a departmental climate hospitable to balancing academic work and family responsibilities is important for all faculty members, but may be particularly important for the retention of women faculty. One study in California suggested that perhaps 60% of faculty mothers considered leaving university teaching because of problems balancing work and family expectations.

  • Understand and communicate in a timely manner information about university policies on leaves for pregnancy, adoption, child rearing, and family emergencies.
  • If appropriate, develop departmental policies and guidelines.
  • Be sensitive to scheduling faculty with families in ways that recognize their family responsibilities.
  • Encourage the human resources department of your university to provide information on child care and elder care resources in the community.
  • Consider adopting policies that allow faculty to stop the tenure clock or adjust their duties (active service/modified duties) for family responsibilities. (For AAUP-recommended standards with regard to stopping the tenure clock, see “Statement of Principles on Family Responsibilities and Academic Work.”)

Sexual Harassment

The AAUP recommends “[w]ell-publicized procedures [that] will help to create an atmosphere in which individuals who believe that they are the victims of harassment are assured that their complaints will be dealt with fairly and effectively. It is more important still to create an atmosphere in which instances of sexual harassment are discouraged. Toward this end, all members of the academic community should support the principle that sexual harassment represents a failure in ethical behavior and that sexual exploitation of professional relationships will not be condoned.” (See “Sexual Harassment: Suggested Policy and Procedures for Handing Complaint.”)

  • Become familiar with campus policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment.
  • Insure that all faculty are aware of university conduct standards.
  • Encourage the university to provide training for department chairs and other administrators on the proper handling sexual harassment complaints.

Some Factors for Measuring Gender Equity on Your Campus

  • Number of committees focused on issues of concern to women (and the visibility of those committees).
  • Ratio of men to women on campus:

 in full-time positions
 on the tenure track
 at the full professor level

  • Leadership roles played by female faculty in the university.
  • Presence of women in graduate faculty or other prestigious positions.
  • Salary equity studies.

(Posted 9/08)