Faculty pushes for increased female mentorship presence

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See also Gender inequality in BYU faculty more than just a numbers game

Read in Spanish: El profesorado presiona para más tutoría de estudiantes femeninas

BYU faculty and administration have seen that mentoring female students and encouraging them to continue their education are ways to create a larger pool of female candidates for faculty positions, something the university currently struggles with. (Sydnee Gonzalez)

Emily Hill has chosen a path strikingly different from the rest of the women in her family. None of them chose to go to graduate school or pursue professional careers.

One thing that helped Hill find her way along the path of academia and professionalism was having female role models.

Hill, a BYU senior majoring in experience design and management, said, “I always appreciate having female professors because I feel that they can provide insight into what it’s like to be a working mom or a woman with a career. Their perspectives help me in ways that perhaps male professors’ cannot.”

Without any female professionals in her own family, Hill said the guidance and encouragement she receives from her female professors has been impactful. “I’ve found it extremely helpful to have those women figures in my academic career to turn to for advice and support regarding my future career,” she said.

Students like Hill aren’t just paving the way for women in their own families; they’re also opening the door to BYU faculty gender equality.

According to Laura Bridgewater, the BYU associate academic vice president for faculty development, a lack of qualified candidates is an obstacle to BYU hiring more female faculty.

Mentoring students like Hill and encouraging them to pursue post-graduate work is one way BYU actively tries to combat this problem.

“To help address this, several different departments and colleges at BYU are working to identify female and male undergraduate students who might be interested in a career in academia and to encourage and support them as they prepare for graduate school,” Bridgewater said.

Undergraduate Education Associate Dean Patti Freeman has seen the value of this method in her own department.

When Freemen was hired at BYU 20 years ago, there was only a handful of women in her discipline throughout the entire country. Since then, she has seen the number of women in recreation management grow exponentially.

“It’s not a discipline that is female deprived,” Freeman said. “I do accreditation visits across the country, and there is rarely an imbalance of gender.”

She has yet to see this trend at BYU, however, and said she believes the confounding factor is the fact that there are fewer Latter-day Saint women who are seeking advanced degrees. This is something her department is trying to change.

“Through our master’s program, we were able to mentor a number of women who have now gone on to get PhDs,” Freeman said, adding that the department recently hired one of these former students.

This practice isn’t followed throughout campus, however. Lori Wadsworth, a Marriott School of Business professor and the chair of the school’s inclusion committee, said many female students are still receiving feedback that they shouldn’t focus on education or careers.

“I have heard from female students across the university that they are told by faculty and other students things like: ‘You’re taking the seat from a potential breadwinner, you probably won’t even pursue a career, so what’s the point of going to college? You can’t be a mother and pursue a career, you got into that program or got that job offer because you’re female,'” Wadsworth said. “These kinds of statements undermine our fellow students’ credibility and create additional stressors in their experience. That just isn’t right.”

One way to combat this is mentoring. Freeman emphasized that having female role models can increase female students’ self-efficacy.

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Patti Freeman explains self-efficacy.

“In terms of role modeling, I think it’s important for young women and young men to see that young women can go on and do things,” Freeman said. “Through these experiences, we can begin to see that women are capable, competent and strong.”

Over the past 10 years, Freeman has made a larger effort to mentor students in whatever ways are meaningful to them. Freeman said she’s come to have a greater appreciation for role modeling over time. “We always benefit from somebody who helps us to sort of see ourselves in not in a different way but in a way that sort of pushes us and propels us.”

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