Seven representatives from Columbia, Harvard, New York universities and Yale gathered as part of a panel Monday night to discuss the challenges to achieving diversity and gender equality at institutions of higher learning.

The panel, organized by the Women Faculty Forum, a report released by the Forum last year entitled “Women, Men, and Yale University: A View from 2007.” Women currently hold 30 percent of faculty positions and 21 percent of tenured positions at Yale, according to the report, up 50 percent in the last half century. Should this trend continue, it will take 50 years for women to be equally represented in Yale’s faculty, the report said.

During the panel, speakers from each school discussed the steps each of their institutions had taken to promote gender equality among their faculties. Panel members debated the merits of family-support programs, increased awareness of diversity in the hiring process, improved collection of data about hiring demographics and programs that foster leadership and support in underrepresented departments.

“We hope to exchange information and learn collectively about … the goals and challenges to diversity … and what we may do that we did not do so well individually,” said Yale Law School professor Judith Resnik, co-chair of the WFF.

While Yale has made strides in promoting faculty diversity, panelist Judy Chevalier, deputy provost for the faculty development at Yale, said she thinks that Yale can do better.

“One way to do that is to grow our own very successful faculty,” Chevalier said.

Instead of continuing the trend of “stealing” from the faculty at other schools, panel participants stressed the importance of increasing the pool of potential faculty members. Representatives of all four schools noted that their institutions are dedicated to fostering graduates and junior faculty by improving mentoring.

Panelists also pointed to the retention of junior faculty members a another obstacle to faculty diversity.

“Hiring is one thing, keeping the people you hire is another,” said Jean Howard, the former vice provost for diversity initiatives at Columbia University.

One way to retain faculty is to improve family support by hiring spouses, providing childcare and making available resources to bring family along on research trips.

“We hire families,” said Evelynn Hammonds, senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity at Harvard.

The audience generally responded favorably to the panel discussion, but some in attendance expressed concern that the schools are not doing enough.

“Department chairs have to know this information to really implement change,” said Shirley McCarthy, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine.

Yale Music professor Sarah Weiss said too much attention was being placed on higher-level management.

“There are not as many initiatives to make people on the ground level really want to claim diversity,” Weiss said.

The WFF was founded in 2001 to promote gender equality among Yale’s faculty and highlight the accomplishments of female faculty members.