Advancing Equity: Strategies for Promoting Women’s Success in the Social Sciences

 July 6, 2015

Advancing Equity in Academia lunch

In 1929, Rose Davis became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from Duke. Fifty years later, fewer than ten women were tenured professors at Duke. This is a pattern that has been general and persistent. In fact, over the past several decades the proportion of women attending college and graduate school has increased relative to men, but this increase has not translated into parity of job placement, or pay, or other measures of professional advancement, as reviewed by prominent social scientists.

In the face of these persistent challenges, the Graduate Student Forum of the Sociology Department organized a three-part series of lunch meetings, Strategies for Promoting Women’s Success in the Social Sciences, with the generous support of The Graduate School’s Professional Development Grant. The lunches took place over the spring 2015 semester, focusing on work-life balance, networking and mentoring, and teaching and presentation styles.

Along with lunch, participants received an informative packet containing current research and a bibliography of further information related to the topic. Panelists from different departments at different career levels kicked off the discussions, leading to open, frank, and sometimes heated discussions about opportunities, challenges, and strategies for navigating academia. While it is impossible to cover the range of discussions, here is a sampling of some of the highlights:

Work/Life Balance
Panelists candidly discussed personal and family challenges that they faced during their graduate training and scholarly careers.  They suggested boundary setting and other practical strategies for maintaining  both a healthy personal and professional life simultaneously.   Students were encouraged to acknowledge that although the first cohort of women to succeed in academia often felt pressured to forego motherhood, work-family policies are improving for both men and women, and social scientists who are mothers and fathers are increasingly able to maintain satisfying work and family lives; a topic regularly reviewed by Academic Associations.

Networking and Mentoring
The panelists provided a number of invaluable tips and advice for networking and mentoring. In addition there were surprisingly frank discussions on managing sexual advances by superiors or colleagues. Some of the more senior faculty members on the panel recounted facing these challenges long before there were institutional supports to address these issues, as there are now. The panelists also provided important discussions on how and when to address demeaning or sexist attitudes.

Teaching and Presentation Styles
Some of the panelists described struggles in finding and communicating the right balance between gendered expectations and personal presentation styles. Participants also discussed gender bias in student evaluations of faculty, from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective. Finally, participants discussed possibilities for institutional changes to address the detrimental effects of this bias on female faculty members’ careers.

Panelists and Participants
This successful series would not have been impossible without the generous participation of the panelists (listed below) and the 78 participants from 9 different departments.

Prof Rebecca L. Bach, Associate Professor of the Practice of Sociology and Director of Undergraduate Studies
Prof Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Chair and Professor of Sociology
Dean Linda M. Burton, Dean of Social Sciences and James B. Duke Professor of Sociology
Prof Linda K. George, Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry and Associate Director for the Center for the Study of Aging & Human Development
Prof Mary G. Hovsepian, Visiting Associate Professor
Prof Naomi Quinn, Professor Emerita of Cultural Anthropology
Prof Laura Smart Richman, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
Prof Lynn Smith-Lovin, Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology in the Women’s Studies program
Prof Jessi Streib, Assistant Professor of Sociology


Patricia Homan
Patricia Homan

Graduate student

Patricia Homan is a graduate student in the Sociology Department. Her work lies at the intersection of health and gender. She works to understand the ways structural inequalities lead to differences in the quality of health care men and women receive.


Bryce Bartlett
Bryce Bartlett

Ph.D. candidate

Bryce Bartlett is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology Department.  He uses statistical and demographic methods to measure changes in health disparities following structural and cultural changes, like the increase in laws and attitudes supporting gender equality.