“You can’t be what you can’t see”: A look at female representation in Yale’s administrative leadership
With nine out of the University’s 15 schools now led by female deans, faculty reflect on the future of diversity and representation in Yale’s upper administrative positions.
Tim Tai, Photography Editor
The appointment of Megan Ranney as the next dean of the Yale School of Public Health marks a historic moment in Yale leadership: for the first time, more than half of Yale’s deans will be women.
With Ranney’s tenure set to begin on July 1, women are more represented than ever in deanship positions across the University’s 15 schools. The School of Architecture, the School of Art, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Law School, the Nursing School, the School of Public Health and the School of Medicine are all headed by women. In the wake of this news, female faculty members and leaders of feminist organizations on campus reflected on the importance of diversity within Yale’s faculty and the work that still remains to be done.
“I have seen, over and over again, that diversity of thought and lived experience enhances the success of an organization,” Ranney told the News. “If we truly include different lived experiences and perspectives, we end up with stronger, more effective, more sustainable solutions for the worlds’ problems.”
Ranney emphasized the particular importance of representation within the world of academia. Diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status within the faculty, she said, helps a university ensure that teaching and research is reflective of a variety of perspectives.
Kymberly Pinder, the first Black woman dean at Yale and the first person of color to serve as the dean of the School of Art, echoed this sentiment.
“When I came back to Yale to serve as its first Black woman dean, I was excited, but I also knew that meant there was much work to do,” Pinder said. “Diversity in leadership provides more perspectives to solve problems. Every successful woman I know has learned a lot from navigating sexism and the bigotry of low expectations.”
As a word of advice to young women in academia, Pinder suggested they always be open to and aware of new opportunities.
Ranney seconded this, suggesting that students focus on building their networks. With a more representative faculty, she wrote, students can form more diverse peer groups.
“What has made the biggest difference [for me] is having an international group of folks at about the same career stage, with similar ambitions, who cheer each other on,” Ranney said. “I have peer networks based on affinity groups, and others based on intellectual or disciplinary interest – they all matter deeply.”
Seeing women represented in University leadership positions also serves as an example for current and prospective female students, Ranney added, pointing to the adage “you can’t be what you can’t see.” When female students see themselves represented in high ranking positions, they are more likely to aspire to these positions themselves, she said.
Both Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, and Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said that their fellow female deans are a valuable resource.
“I have found all of the deans at Yale to be warm and generous colleagues, and helpful and responsive to each other,” Berke said. “In particular, the women deans have become true friends, readily available for advice and support.”
The shift in female representation amongst Yale deans signifies a time for both celebration and reevaluation for Barbara Gulanski, associate clinical professor of endocrinology and leader of the School of Medicine’s Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine, or SWIM, and Pamela Kunz, associate professor of internal medicine and a member of SWIM.
Gulanski emphasized the stark contrast between the current makeup of Yale’s faculty and that of her medical school in the 1970s. The lack of female representation in leadership positions often made it difficult to have a vision of what one’s future career could look like, she said.
Gulanski and Kunz noted that while the majority-female deanship at Yale marks a time to recognize a group of women with significant accomplishments, it also provides an opportunity to acknowledge that efforts to increase diverse leadership need to continue in order to improve the workplace culture and student experience at Yale.
“We need to increase diversity at those middle levels of department chairs and section chiefs,” said Gulanski. “We hope this is a sort of harbinger of change that this will continue, and we hope that this sort of momentum will go on.”
Kunz highlighted that this need for diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and race at the middle levels of faculty leadership can be addressed starting with the identification and recruitment process for new faculty positions.
According to Kunz, this process has historically been flawed. Efforts to improve the situation, she said, have led to rules on the composition of search committees at the School of Medicine, where 50 percent of a search committee must be female and 30 percent of the committee must consist of “underrepresented minorities.”
While applauding Yale for its commitment to diversity amongst its faculty, Gulanski expressed hopes for a shift in workplace culture at and beyond the university. Kunz added that implementing the culture shift starts with faculty members in the highest positions.
“I think the culture of an institution is set at the top, and it needs to trickle down,” said Kunz. “When the deans aren’t as diverse, we risk not having diversity valued as a key priority in university goals. And so I’m really excited about all of these female deans.”
Deans, professors, students and many other members of the community have expressed excitement for what’s to come at Yale as the institution moves forward under predominantly female leadership.
According to Cooley, this can in large part be attributed to the uplifting feeling brought on by the opportunity to be a leader in an inclusive environment.
“Working toward university goals alongside a stellar group of deans has been an inspiring and rewarding experience,” Cooley wrote. “That over half of us are women feels both completely normal and an important example of leadership representation to everyone on campus.”
Hanna Holborn Gray is the only woman to serve as president of Yale University, serving from 1977 to 1978.