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Smith president on women, walls and ways forward

EVANSTON - Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, who leads one of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, gave an address Thursday titled “Walls, Words and Ways Forward — Creating Opportunity for Women Leaders” to a rapt crowd of faculty, students, staff and alumni.

Invited to give the address by the newly-launched Provost’s Advisory Council on Women Faculty, comprised of women and men faculty working to make Northwestern University more inclusive, McCartney spoke about a spectrum of factors, from overt sexism to implicit gender biases — all barriers that make up the “glass wall.”

The talk took place at the Allen Center on Northwestern’s Evanston campus Thursday afternoon.

“When women act too different from the norm there are punishments in place,” McCartney said. “In study after study, psychologists have demonstrated that we internalize negative cultural stereotypes even about our own identities. We breathe in ‘the smog’ of sexism.”

McCartney’s visit reflects the goals of the newly-launched advisory council. The purpose of the council is to investigate and create best practices related to development and leadership of women faculty, pipeline opportunities to advance their careers and policies that lead to success.

“This is a great opportunity to learn from Kathleen McCartney’s extensive expertise as she discusses strategies for fostering women leaders,” said Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, associate provost for faculty at Northwestern and co-chair of the Provost’s Advisory Council on Women Faculty.

Even at the most inclusive institutions, women faculty often face a host of challenges, including not only glass ceilings but also “glass walls made of unconscious biases” that pervade society.

That is what McCartney argued in a recent op-ed published in The New York Times immediately following Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential election.

“For our mothers, sexism was explicit,” McCartney wrote in the Times piece. “Their war stories would make any Title IX officer today shudder.”

“For our daughters — today’s students — sexism is often implicit,” she continued. “Both men and women internalize stubborn cultural biases about gender that affect our understandings, actions and decisions. For this reason, female leaders are restricted by far more than ceilings. Glass walls erected by these unconscious biases box women into traditional roles and limit our opportunities.”

Considering her background, McCartney’s resilience in her journey to the presidency of Smith College has particular resonance. The first in her family to attend college, she graduated summa cum laude from Tufts University.

“Kathleen McCartney is an inspirational example of a first-generation student who has advanced to the highest levels of leadership in education,” said Northwestern President Morton Schapiro.

Added Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer: “Kathleen McCartney’s insights into creating opportunities for women’s leadership will help us work to advance the success of all our students and faculty, regardless of gender, race, background or other identity.”

More About Kathleen McCartney

The eleventh president of Smith College and a former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education — only the fifth woman dean in Harvard’s history — McCartney has vast expertise promoting leadership for women faculty and academic administrators. Women hold more than half of full-time faculty positions at Smith, and the college has a stellar track record of expanding opportunities for students.  

McCartney’s efforts to level the playing field include not only women but also first-generation and minority students.

McCartney, who has earned master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Yale University, has conducted research on childcare and early childhood experience, education policy and parenting. She is the author of nine volumes and more than 160 journal articles and book chapters. Among her numerous honors, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society. 

McCartney serves as a director of the American Council on Education and the Consortium on Financing Higher Education.

About the Northwestern University Provost’s Advisory Council on Women Faculty

While the numbers and percentages of women faculty have risen at Northwestern, significant work remains to increase those numbers and to promote inclusive excellence. In addition, the Provost’s Advisory Council on Women Faculty was formed to foster the advancement of women and women-identified faculty.

“We are focused on enabling our women and women-identified faculty to reach the highest levels of success in their scholarship and teaching. In addition, our goal is to nurture their leadership within departments, centers, institutes, schools and professional organizations,” said Chase-Lansdale, associate provost.

The council’s mission is to highlight the scholarship and creative work of women and women-identified faculty members, to build community and to expand leadership opportunities. 

The council includes workgroups that examine faculty development and leadership, pipeline patterns, and work-life policies.

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