April 03, 2007

Making academic science environments inclusive for women: cooperation is key

Diana Bilimoria

As colleges and universities nationwide are focusing on the attraction and retention of women scientists, Case Western Reserve researchers at the Weatherhead School of Management have set out to find ways to advance women in underrepresented areas of science.

Diana Bilimoria, associate professor of organizational behavior, with Weatherhead graduate student C. Greer Jordan, co-authored the study, "Creating a Productive and Inclusive Academic Work Environment." The study's findings were presented recently at the American Council on Education conference in Washington, D.C.

"One of the major findings of the study is that everyone—men and the overall organization—benefit if conditions for women or minorities are improved," said Bilimoria.

The researchers conducted a case study of a science department at a Midwestern university that is recognized for its success in keeping and advancing women. Using archival data of the department's history, direct observations and semi-structured interviews, the researchers collected data on values and beliefs, day-to-day interactions, along with activities, practices and processes that contributed to the department's work culture and supported the development and advancement of women and men.

They found that "climbing the ladder" took on a new meaning in this organization. The department's collaborative environment was evident in the way faculty members cooperated both in and out of the work setting. In the fall, faculty members from the department bought an extension ladder and then drove to the other department members' homes to clean out their gutters.

The ladder story, according to the faculty members, illustrated the teamwork and camaraderie within the department. It was one of many department initiatives that contributed to a productive, supportive work culture for women and men.

The overall workplace promoted collegial and shared learning interactions. Throughout these interactions, two behaviors were consistent and prevalent—civility and citizenship in the form of extra responsibilities or volunteering to assist others when needed.

While faculty members have individual labs, "they gather and share resources that support the success of everyone's lab and the department as a whole," the researchers reported.

The researchers also noted that this department held strong values of how they defined what a scientist is and what a scientist does. The department practiced "good science" as the pursuit of answers to questions that produced new and substantive knowledge for their field, and valued developing future scientists as part of that "good" science practice. Everyone also participated in the recruiting of new faculty members, which facilitated the integration of new team members.

"Faculty also believed that anyone, male or female, could do high quality science if they could learn quickly; were well trained; were excited about science; and were willing to work hard," wrote the authors.

The department and its leadership valued participation in group activities that advanced the department and its science. This participation led to department members sharing resources and successes among each other to advance the overall work of the department. The result was that as more resources were created, ideas were generated and cooperation occurred, the department fostered a community among the workers.

"The environment became more attractive as a work and social environment," the researchers said.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, April 3, 2007 11:10 AM | News Topics: HeadlinesMain, Provost Initiatives, Public Policy/Politics, Research

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