Takeaways From Yale’s “Gender Rules” Conference

November 7, 2014If you’re a woman in academia, you probably don’t have time to ponder the complexities of balancing motherhood with the pursuit of tenure; once you find yourself with child, there’s not much to do but keep your head down, plow ahead on all fronts, and try to make it work.

But we’ve known for decades that supportive, flexible institutions can go a very long way toward relieving the enormous stress and pressure young families face, both inside and outside of the academy.

On Saturday, November 1, I attended a conference hosted by my alma mater, Yale University, entitled “Gender Rules: Conversations About Access, Outcome, and Equality.”

A variety of speakers shared their perspectives throughout the day, including Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics; Kathleen McCartney, President of Smith College; and Teresa Younger, President & CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women.

Check out my top takeaways below!

Maternity leave is NOT bonus vacation time.

Kathleen McCartney, President of Smith College, told a story about being denied maternity leave when she was an assistant professor at Yale in 1985 on the grounds that it would be unfair to her male colleagues since mat leave would give her a “leg up” on writing a book. (Any mothers out there care to weigh in on that one?)

Other cultures recognize the value of the work mothers do—but not necessarily gender equality.

From a panel called, “A System of Law: Gender and Equal Rights,” I learned that women in France received paid maternity leave before they received the right to vote!

Intentionality matters.

Kimberlee Shauman, a sociology professor at UC Davis, spoke about how crucial it is for organizations to be intentional when it comes to structuring their workplaces, suggesting that “Institutions need to make inclusion an explicit goal.”

As an alumna, it saddens me to note how much work still needs to be done. But I am heartened by Yale’s desire to tackle these issues—and the continued commitment of women faculty, students, and alumni to speak truth to power. (Anita Hill, Yale Law School, Class of 1980 has always been a particular hero of mine.)

We’ve made tremendous progress on many of the issues addressed at Saturday’s conference—but we’re not ready to rest on our laurels just yet. 

What do you think has changed for women since they were first admitted to the country’s top universities? What still needs to be addressed? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.