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Improved culture for women in science is target of NSF grant

The Ohio State University will use federal funding to help female faculty advance in the sciences by launching a five-year initiative to change academic departmental culture in disciplines in which women are underrepresented on the faculty.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Ohio State a $3.6 million grant to fund a program called Project CEOS, or Comprehensive Equity at Ohio State. The initiative is intended to increase the presence and success of women at all faculty ranks and in faculty leadership positions across the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Though Ohio State has adopted progressive policies that allow for flexibility on the tenure track and created support offices promoting gender equity, university surveys show that women faculty have heavier family obligations than men, and female professors are more likely to report that they work in unsupportive department cultures.

"The circumstances at Ohio State are common to many other institutions, but the university's size, depth and decentralized structure present unusual challenges," said Joan M. Herbers, principal investigator for the grant and professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology. "Even with support for women at the highest levels of leadership, this kind of culture shift cannot occur in a top-down fashion. The departments have to buy into it."

Women represent a low of 12.8 percent and a high of 27.1 percent of faculty in the four STEM colleges that developed the proposal. Participating units in Project CEOS are the College of Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences within the Federation of the Arts and Sciences, and the Colleges of Engineering and Veterinary Medicine.

"We have a problem recruiting and retaining women to faculty positions," Herbers said. "We have plenty of women getting doctorates in these disciplines, so it's not a supply problem. We need to integrate family-friendly policies with day-to-day practices and beliefs to create a welcoming environment for diverse women scientists."

Specific goals of Project CEOS include retaining to promotion and tenure all of the current female assistant professors in STEM disciplines; achieving 30 percent representation by women among the 80 faculty hires anticipated over the next five years in the participating colleges; hiring at least six new faculty who are either African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American or Native-American women; appointing at least three additional women as associate deans and chairs; and increasing entrepreneurial activity by women by 50 percent.

"Project CEOS is a great example of efforts at Ohio State to reach aggressively across our college boundaries and work together to create change that will make this a better institution," said Joseph A. Alutto, executive vice president and provost. "The initiative represents collaboration on a scale not often seen at a university, combining the expertise from disciplines as diverse as education, earth sciences, public affairs, human resources and women's studies."

Project CEOS will consist of four programs guided by a social sciences concept called transformational leadership. This model emphasizes a group or team approach that reduces the difference in status among organization members, employs participatory decision-making and is based on a form of "facilitative" power demonstrated by leaders working with people instead of over them.

The four programs include:

· Leadership training for deans and departments chairs, first focusing on a variety of leadership issues and followed by an emphasis on leading organizational change.

· Action learning teams consisting of deans, chairs, faculty and staff in year three of the initiative; deans will use these teams to communicate a vision for a culture that supports inclusivity and that specifically fosters women's and underrepresented minorities' opportunities for achievement.

· Quarterly workshops on leadership topics and peer-based mentoring for women leaders in the STEM colleges.

· Targeted entrepreneurship training for women center directors and those leading research teams, emphasizing business processes associated with licensing and commercializing technology.

"What I really like about this project is that it's working with scientists in STEM but using social science techniques. The model of transformational leadership puts all the pieces together. It's not just about people in charge, and it's not just about policies. It's about having all those pieces in place to work together," Herbers said.

Project CEOS also differs from other institutional programs of this kind by focusing on intellectual property issues, patents and startup companies within the entrepreneurial training, Herbers said.

The grant was awarded as part of the NSF ADVANCE program, which was designed to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers. Ohio State was one of nine Institutional Transformation Award recipients, and among three Big Ten universities, in this round of awards and is among three institutions in Ohio to receive NSF funding for programs intended to create a more diverse science and engineering work force.

More information is available online at: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0811123

Contact: Joan Herbers, (614) 292-5472; Herbers.4@osu.edu
Written by Emily Caldwell, (614) 292-8310; Caldwell.151@osu.edu

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