Published Date

May 1, 2005

Resource Type

AHA Policies and Documents

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, Professional Life

Approved by AHA Council, May 2005



To Deans, Department Chairs, and Administrators:

This letter serves to introduce the accompanying document, Gender Equity in the Academic History Workplace: A Guide to Best Practices. This guide is the work of the Committee on Women Historians (CWH) of the American Historical Association.

The guide grew out of the survey of women members of the AHA conducted by the CWH in May 2002. Professor Elizabeth Lunbeck, chair of the CWH when the survey was administered, has summarized the results of the survey in the pamphlet on The Status of Women in the Historical Profession, 2005 that accompanies this document.

The CWH sent the survey to women members of the AHA, and received 362 responses, which provided rich qualitative and quantitative data. The survey and Professor Lunbeck’s report provided an occasion for the CWH to reflect on those institutional and personal practices that have contributed to women historians’ important gains in recent decades as well as the lingering constraints inhibiting them from reaching their fullest potential within the academy. They also serve as a call to action.

It has become clear that in spite of the dramatic and historic gains for and by women in the profession, significant inequities remain, and continuous effort is required not only on the part of women faculty members but also those department chairs, deans, and administrators who have the capacity to shape institutional culture and practices alike.

Gender Equity in the Academic History Workplace: A Guide to Best Practices has been designed by the CWH to guide decisions and inform practices of deans, department chairs, and administrators within colleges and universities and serve as a resource for all historians, regardless of their rank. Because the guiding principle is equity, many of the guidelines will also serve the needs of male historians, although the focus is on achieving the still-unrealized goal of equity for women. We recognize, too, that, as feminist scholars have long noted, there is sometimes a tension between wholly gender-neutral practices and those that acknowledge that women sometimes face unique challenges. The best that any of us can do may be to recognize that such tensions exist and to face them squarely, looking for the solutions that may be most appropriate for particular institutions and individual cases. Likewise, we recognize the great variety among academic institutions, each with its own mission, and that, hence, not all of our guidelines will be appropriate for each institution. Still, we urge each of you to embrace the spirit of the guidelines and to use them to help bring about and maintain gender equity at your institution.

We would note also that the guidelines do not directly address inequities based on sexual preference, but that is only because the survey did not yield enough data for us to discern patterns or prescribe remedies. Discrimination based on sexual preference remains a pressing issue.

The guidelines focus primarily on full-time, tenure-track faculty. However, since part-time, adjunct, and non tenure-track faculty are disproportionately women, their working conditions necessarily have a significant gendered dimension. Departments should consult this document along with the AHA’s Guidelines for the Employment of Part-Time and Temporary Faculty in History and “Good Practices and Common Goals: The Conference on Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty.” This document is intended for academic institutions. Many of these practices will apply to public historians as well, but because of other specific differences between the academic and the public settings, the Committee on Women Historians will provide a separate document outlining best practices for the public setting.

Jan Lewis Chair, CWH

These standards are intended to guide decisions and inform practices of deans, department chairs, and senior administrators within colleges and universities and serve as a resource for all historians, regardless of their rank.

The bullet points are intended to suggest examples and prompts to action rather than provide an exhaustive list.

Producing a Workplace Culture That Ensures Gender Equity

Department chairs and administrators should take a positive and pro-active approach toward creating a supportive workplace culture. The onus should not be upon women to point out problems or make complaints, but instead, those in authority should take responsibility for the tone of departmental life. Workplace culture can be made more supportive by:

  • Creating inclusive networks of collegiality and sociability.
  • Avoiding venues and activities for departmental gatherings that may exclude women or men, or make them feel like interlopers in their own departments.
  • Ensuring that formal and informal decision-making processes are transparent and inclusive.
  • Taking active steps to ensure that the workplace is free of unprofessional language and conduct.
  • Taking a proactive approach in combating sexual harassment, discrimination based on sexual orientation, and/or a hostile environment by publicizing institutional policies and enforcing them.
  • Insisting that staff, students, and administrators address and treat male and female faculty and students equally, i.e., avoid addressing male faculty as Dr. or Prof. and female faculty as Mrs., Ms., or Miss (or first name).

Creating Gender Equity through Mentoring

Mentoring is crucial for women’s success in navigating their way within a profession that still remains male dominated and, within some departments, colleges, and universities, still remains rooted in sexist ideas about gender. No single model of mentoring is applicable to all settings. At some institutions, a formal system of assigned mentors chosen from senior faculty within their departments may work best, while in others, women benefit most from informal mentorship by senior colleagues in their own or other departments or in the wider academic community. The most effective mentors see themselves as colleagues rather than teachers. Many (though not all) younger women report having particularly benefited from the advice and support of senior women in the historical profession.

Ideally, mentorship will be a natural extension of a supportive and collegial workplace environment.

  • Effective mentorship includes:
  • Sharing information about institutional knowledge, memory, and culture.
  • Recognizing that mentorship is an important aspect of service to departments and colleges.
  • Sharing and critiquing work, and doing so without regard to gender.
  • Facilitating contact with conference organizers, journal editors, and publishers to provide venues for disseminating scholarly work.

Creating Gender Equity by Producing a Workplace Culture Amenable to Family Life

A workplace culture that better supports family life will benefit men and women both but will be especially important to women faculty members. Although societal norms are changing, parenting and elder care—and gendered expectations about them—fall disproportionately on women and affect their experience of the workplace. In addition, younger women faculty and graduate students feel acutely the combined pressures of the tenure and biological clocks. Likewise, mid-career advancement is often hindered by family obligations that still fall disproportionately on women. These problems can be alleviated by:

  • Recognizing that meeting family obligations does not mean diminished professional commitment.
  • Supporting flexibility in the scheduling of teaching, departmental meetings and gatherings, and other professional obligations to ensure compatibility with the demands of work and family.
  • Allowing new parents the option of stopping the tenure clock.
  • Where they do not exist, working to establish provisions for parental and family leave beyond those required by the Family and Medical Leave Act, partner benefits, childcare, etc.

Ensuring Gender Equity by Recognizing the Impact of Gender on Perceptions and Evaluations of Women Faculty

Evaluation of research, teaching, and service should be based on standards of the profession and should not be based on the gender or sexual orientation of the researcher or teacher or the subject of academic inquiry. Women must be viewed as equal colleagues and equal members of the academy. Departments also need to appreciate the centrality of research and teaching on gender, women’s studies, and related inquiries in assessing the scholarship of faculty working on these topics.

Even in evaluations that appear to be gender neutral such as standardized teaching evaluations, gender can powerfully shape results. For example, departments should be cognizant of students who may bring their own ideas about gender to bear on the way they evaluate faculty: thus they may praise male faculty for being “brilliant” and female faculty for being “nice ladies.” Similarly, colleagues may label women as “difficult” for being assertive when the same behavior in men is unremarked. Women faculty report that they have to work harder to be viewed as competent by both students and colleagues and are often dismissed as lacking objectivity because they are women. Gender equity may be ensured by:

  • Paying attention to and correcting for “invisible” gender biases in mechanisms used to evaluate women faculty members’ performance of their jobs.
  • Recognizing the centrality of research and teaching on the history of women, gender, and sexuality in assessing scholarship and teaching.
  • At the same time, acknowledging that not all women study or teach the history of women and/or gender.
  • Evaluating research on the basis of the standards of the profession and not the gender of the researcher or the subject of inquiry.
  • Evaluating collegiality without regard to gender.
  • Working to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Adhering to the AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct.

Ensuring Gender Equity in Recruitment and Hiring

Hiring is critical to all departments, and even more so, in ones in which women and minorities are underrepresented. Recruitment of women and minorities must be aggressive and continuous. Departments should develop strategies for ensuring recruitment, hiring, promotion, and retention of women and minorities. Wherever possible, departments should place women on search committees, even if that means violating the principle that women should not be overburdened with committee work. Service on search committees and key policy-making committees may take priority over other sorts of service where gender may be a less important factor. Gender equity in hiring and recruitment may be achieved by:

  • Ensuring that all search committees actively consider women and minorities at all stages of hiring.
  • Ensuring that hiring procedures and interviewing are equitable, professional, free from inappropriate behavior, and are conducted in accordance with the AHA’s Hiring Guidelines.
  • Ensuring that departments consider the AHA guidelines concerning spousal/partner hiring.
  • Explaining university policies on all forms of family, parental, and maternity leave and child care, partner benefits, etc. as a normal part of the hiring process and thereby relieving job applicants and junior faculty of the burden of asking questions about these policies. For an explanation of terms such as maternity, family, and parental leave, see AAUP’s “Statement of Principles on Family Responsibilities and Academic Work,” issued in 2001.

Ensuring Gender Equity in Assignment of Duties and Academic Service

Expectations about women’s supposedly “natural” gift for nurture often lead to significant inequities in the kinds of duties and academic service expected of men and women, which in turn are associated with very different rewards. In departments and colleges in which women remain underrepresented, they are sometimes disproportionately expected to perform service. Many women report being placed in a kind of “double-bind” in which they are expected to represent a “woman’s” perspective, and then criticized for always representing a gendered point of view. This reinforces gender inequities, which in turn hinder women’s advancement in the academy. Gender equity can be fostered by:

  • Working with faculty regardless of gender to develop teaching schedules compatible with ongoing research.
  • Clarifying expectations of tenure and promotion and developing service assignments compatible with meeting these expectations. For example, in some settings, service on a university-wide committee may be important for getting tenure; in others, such service may be viewed as a distraction from the “real” work of getting refereed publications in scholarly journals.
  • Placing women on committees strategically, so that they are in a position to advance gender equity.
  • Recommending women for prestigious and key policy-making institutional committees, not just ones related to gender or race.
  • Recognizing that certain departmental duties such as inviting and introducing distinguished guest scholars bring visibility and prestige and should be distributed to women and men alike.
  • Distributing service assignments that may be less prestigious at some institutions, such as taking notes at meetings, advising the history club, advising students, and teaching introductory courses, equally among faculty without regard to gender or race.

Ensuring Gender Equity in Compensation and Access to and Distribution of Institutional Resources

Gender discrepancies in compensation as well as access to and distribution of the institutional resources persist within the academy. Compensation affects retirement income, and access to institutional resources affects career advancement with the academy. Sometimes this process is deeply structural, as when an institution awards summer money exclusively for travel, when what parents of young children may need most is childcare. Departments may wish to take a proactive stance when the criteria for grants contain implicit or explicit gender discrepancies. Gender equity can be fostered by:

  • Engaging in regular equity reviews of salaries, pensions, promotions, merit increases, and endowed chairs.
  • Encouraging the procurement of grants from within and outside the college or university and facilitating their acceptance without regard to gender.
  • Allocating resources such as office space, equipment, and facilities without regard to gender.
  • Providing secretarial and staff support without regard to gender.
  • Rewarding reduced teaching and workloads and submitting nominations for prizes and awards entirely on merit, not gender.
  • Encouraging institutional flexibility in designating allowable research expenses, for example childcare.