Dean Boyce Moderates UN HeForShe Panel

Oct 17 2018 | By Holly Evarts

Columbia faculty joined United Nations officials on October 10 at a panel discussion moderated by Dean Mary C. Boyce on gender inequality and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) areas and how Columbia and other institutions are working toward parity. The event, HeForShe, was sponsored by Columbia’s Office of University Life, and was initiated by the UN in 2014 as a campaign to advance gender equality by inviting “men and people of all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible, and united force for gender equality.”

Livestream of the HeForShe panel, moderated by Dean Mary Boyce

Suzanne Goldberg, Executive Vice President for University Life; Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law; Special Advisor to the President for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, welcomed the attendees at Low Library and those tuning in via livestream and introduced keynote speaker Elizabeth Nyamayaro, senior advisor to the UN Women executive director and head of HeForShe, who described growing up as a girl in her native Zimbabwe and detailed ongoing efforts toward a gender-equal world.

Dean Boyce then reflected on her experiences as a woman in engineering and how important the highly collaborative nature of the field is to all engineers. She noted that “this is perhaps one of the greatest times to be pursuing a degree in engineering or applied science—the needs for and the impact of engineering developments on lives around the world has never been clearer.”

Boyce foresees a positive future for women in engineering, though “we all have a long way to go,” she noted. A few universities are seeing great strides in attracting women into engineering and applied science fields and Columbia Engineering is at the forefront: women make up 43 percent of its undergraduate body and 49 percent of the current first-year class. The graduate student body is 35 percent women: 38 percent MS students, 24 percent PhD. At the same time, women now make up 18 percent of the faculty.

“What’s clear in these numbers,” Boyce noted, is that “the pipeline is growing, and now there are more than ever an increasing number of talented and qualified women pursuing engineering. This will result in more women in graduate programs, postdoc programs, and faculty positions, and will help create the critical mass needed to achieve greater gender equity.”

Helen Lu, vice chair and professor of biomedical engineering (BME), talked about the downside of being not just the first women faculty member in BME but also the first to get tenure, the challenges in hiring faculty, and the positive increase in the number of female students. Elsewhere in the life sciences, Carol Mason, professor of pathology and cell biology, neuroscience and ophthalmic science, principal investigator and chair of interschool planning at Columbia's Zuckerman Institute, discussed her experiences, the unique challenges of various career trajectories, and the “leaky” pipeline siphoning off women from fields not noted for work-life balance.

Dennis Mitchell, Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, Columbia University and Senior Associate Dean for Diversity for the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, spoke about the University’s efforts to target faculty recruiting and retention in addition to fostering “a climate of inclusiveness” at every level. Globally, Julien Pellaux, strategic senior advisor to the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director UN Women, discussed gender equity from the perspective of the UN’s efforts and initiatives.

“We are in the midst of an engineering renaissance and a key objective will be making sure that women have an equal share—this is important for the world, not just for women,” said Boyce. “At Columbia, the critical mass and presence of women and visibility of women attracts other women—it is a subtlety that is important to the overall environment and atmosphere in the classroom and the laboratory.”