The need for gender equity across different aspects of life has fostered multiple efforts to ensure equal representation. For women educators in higher education, one Texas Tech group seeks to ensure women are equally represented among their campus’ faculty.
The Tech Women Full Professors Network (WFPN) is a group consisting of women faculty that is dedicated to helping other women faculty advance in their positions and be recognized for their contributions to the university.
Wendy-Adele Humphrey, associate dean for academic affairs at the Tech School of Law and co-director of the WFPN, said the network strives to find ways to support women faculty at Tech and to find solutions to issues related to the advancement of women faculty. Elizabeth Sharp, professor in the Tech Human Development and Family Studies department, and Jaclyn Cañas-Carrell, professor in the Tech Department of Environmental Toxicology, also act as co-directors for the network.
In Fall 2017, Humphrey said she, Sharp and Charlotte Dunham, who served as the director of Women’s and Gender Studies and a professor of sociology before retiring, got together and decided to form an informal group to create opportunities for women full professors at Tech.
“At that time, our goal was to get together in-person,” she said. “Once or twice a semester, we held receptions at our homes and invited women full professors to attend, and it was so amazing early on because so many of us don’t know each other from across campus.”
Getting together improved the professional network of those professors involved and fostered new friendships, Humphrey said.
In addition, women full professors were asked for their thoughts on what challenges they face and what on campus needs to be improved, Humphrey said. These findings were distributed to the Tech Office of the Provost and the faculty success task force.
“Even though we were more informal in the beginning, we were still taking steps to make sure that, as a group, we could make an impact,” she said.
The name of the network was created in 2019, Humphrey said. Despite the name focusing on women full professors, she said the network aims to provide support for all women professors.
The WFPN consists of an executive board that includes faculty of different disciplines, Humphrey said.
“Our goal was to have representation from all of the colleges across campus, so that a woman full professor from each college serves on the executive board,” she said, “and we meet periodically to discuss the network’s initiatives.”
Mary Murimi, professor in the Tech Nutritional Sciences and member of the WFPN executive board, said the network realizes not all women professors will seek support, so the network strives to find those professors in need of support and guidance toward becoming a full professor.
“We want to be there for them in terms of encouraging them,” she said. “At the same time, we are looking at the positives of the university.”
Understanding what barriers stand in the way of women faculty is another task the members of WFPN strives to complete, Murimi said. The members are very supportive of each other.
“Just to have people that are like-minded, people that have gone through the same milestones, people that are looking out for others and not just themselves and just having time to celebrate,” she said. “Whenever a woman gets to be a full professor, we get together, and we celebrate.”
Kelli Cargile Cook, professor and chair of professional communication in the Tech College of Media and Communication and member of the WFPN executive board, said since it is publicly announced when someone on campus becomes a full professor, the network will reach out to that person and later recognize those individuals.
“I jumped at the opportunity to join the network,” she said. “I’m a member of the Women Faculty Writing Program and have benefited tremendously from meeting weekly with women from around campus and having a dedicated writing time. I just found it tremendously supportive, and when [the WFPN] opportunity came up to be a part of the executive board, I applied and was very happy to know that I was accepted to be a part of the executive board to represent.”
Regardless, the WFPN provides support for women faculty who are working toward being full professors, Cargile Cook said.
“It’s just something I’m very excited to be a part of,” she said.
For more information about what WFPN strives to accomplish, visit the Tech President’s Gender Equity Council website.