4 Ways to Advance Equity for Women in Higher Education

Universities can promote equity for women and combat gender discrimination in the workforce by holding workshops and highlighting women's accomplishments.
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  • Despite women's achievements in higher ed, sexism and gender discrimination persist.
  • Women today face challenges with asking for higher salaries and pursuing STEM careers.
  • To advance gender equity, colleges can offer special workshops and conferences.
  • Universities can also use social media to promote women's achievements.

March is Women's History Month, a time for us to acknowledge and celebrate the amazing role women play in American history. But due to sexism and gender discrimination, women continue to face insurmountable systemic barriers in achieving social and economic parity with men.

In the U.S., women earn 81 cents for every dollar men make, and this trend holds true regardless of job type or seniority level. The gender pay gap widens even further when we look at salaries for Black, Hispanic, and Native American women.

In the U.S., women earn 81 cents for every dollar men make, and this trend holds true regardless of job type or seniority level.
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Colleges and universities are a microcosm of society, and while studies show that more women attend and graduate from college than men, many women continue to experience gender microaggressions and sexual harassment on campus.

Making sure that all female students receive a campus experience that is free of discrimination should be embedded in every institution's diversity and equity plan. Here are four easy steps colleges can take to promote equity for women in higher education.

4 Ways Colleges Can Promote Equity for Women

Host a Workshop on Salary Negotiation for Women

Negotiating a salary can be difficult, especially for women, who are less likely to ask for more money when offered a job and more likely to stay in a lower-paid position.

Attributes like assertiveness are largely associated with men in leadership roles, meaning women who demonstrate these qualities are often stigmatized. And since negotiating a salary requires taking initiative, it's no surprise that men are rewarded for such behaviors, leaving many women reluctant to ask for a raise.

In a survey from Glassdoor, 60% of women and 48% of men believed salary history questions should not be asked. Women were also less likely to negotiate compensation, with 2 out of 3 women not negotiating pay at all, compared to 52% of men.

Women are less likely to negotiate compensation, with 2 out of 3 women not negotiating pay at all.
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The lack of pay equity between men and women has serious consequences in terms of women's livelihood and their ability to build and secure a financially stable life. Providing opportunities for female college students to learn tips and strategies around salary negotiation gives them a professional skill that's instrumental in career success.

It will also improve women's confidence around having salary conversations, making them less fearful and reluctant to ask for more money. Organizations like the American Association of University Women host salary workshops for women, which include helpful tips for researching target salaries, highlighting your accomplishments, and building confidence around negotiation.

Claire Wasserman, the founder of Ladies Get Paid, also holds a salary negotiation workshop to help women understand their market value and overcome impostor syndrome.

Hold Training on Domestic Violence and Healthy Relationships

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the impact of domestic violence — which includes emotional, sexual, verbal, and physical abuse — with shelter-in-place orders and historic downturns in employment. Due to a lack of resources, many victims of domestic violence were forced to stay in close physical contact with their abusers.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence." Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are at highest risk of being abused by an intimate partner.

Compared to men, women are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence. And due to the gender pay gap, many women lack the economic resources to leave or separate from their abuser.

Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are at highest risk of being abused by an intimate partner.
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Today, women continue to face ridicule for choosing to stay with an abuser due to the stigma associated with domestic violence. This blame is not only unfair but also completely one-sided. Such accusations fail to acknowledge the role men play in building and sustaining healthy relationships, and in advocating for women who have been abused.

College is a time when many young people explore dating and sex, which can heighten issues of domestic violence. It's important that both men and women understand what constitutes a healthy relationship, the cycle of abuse, and what resources can assist students who've experienced abuse.

Most colleges offer some form of Title IX training, in which students learn how to report incidents of domestic violence. Schools should also consider forming local partnerships with domestic violence organizations and women's centers.

Organize a Conference Focusing on Women in STEM

Women make up less than a quarter of the STEM workforce in the U.S. Research indicates that women participate in STEM fields at lower rates due to factors like a lack of encouragement or active discouragement, a lack of access to role models, peer pressure, and harassment.

Women's underrepresentation in STEM is not an ability issue but rather a systemic issue. Therefore, increasing the number of women in STEM will require large-scale systemic efforts to support women and alleviate gender discrimination.

College Conferences for Women in STEM

While a conference focused on women in STEM may feel like a one-off event, the impact of these kinds of conferences can be long lasting. Most women majoring in STEM predominantly take courses with their male counterparts and have very few opportunities to connect with other female students, female professors, and female professionals.

They also may not have the opportunity to form a social network that can help them navigate gender discrimination or support them while pursuing their degrees. Hosting a focused event on women in STEM provides female students a safe space to discuss their experiences in the field with other like-minded individuals.

A conference can also help women build confidence in their abilities and perseverance in STEM. Most importantly, an event like this gives female students the opportunity to cultivate a professional network, which can offer many social and economic benefits.

Start a Social Media Campaign Around Women Heroes

Research found that 98% of college-aged individuals use social media. And with the COVID-19 pandemic and physical closure of campuses, social media usage has likely increased.

Social media is a useful platform for disseminating information to a large audience. Many use it not just to connect with friends and acquaintances, but to learn new information. Social media platforms similarly allow colleges to easily connect and build relationships with students. What's more, social media campaigns are relatively less expensive than other outreach methods.

Unfortunately, women aren't celebrated enough, and female students should be able to see themselves represented positively in the media. Universities can hold a social media campaign focused on women heroes during Women's History Month or, better yet, throughout the year to highlight their commitment to gender equity.

Specifically, the campaign could concentrate on women's accomplishments throughout history in fields like science and medicine, and individuals who've paved the way for future generations of women.

It's also important for these campaigns to showcase women with intersectional identities. LGBTQ+ women, women of color, and women with disabilities are often overlooked, forgotten, and overshadowed by white heterosexual women. We must introduce the full spectrum of women and their accomplishments so that all female students can be inspired and empowered.

Learn about the disparities women in academics face and how to honor them during Women's History Month.

Empowering Women in Higher Ed Starts With Equity

Gender equity work is far from finished, as women continue to face unique barriers. Universities play a critical role in establishing equitable learning spaces and advancing equity for women. This month should serve as a reminder for college administrators to revitalize and refocus their efforts on promoting equity for women in higher education.

Feel free to check out our handy guide that breaks down everything you'll want to know about the top women's colleges.