Female faculty, staff offer professional perspectives
Photos courtesy Institute Communications and Public Affairs
Women staff and faculty faced the same difficulties that many students struggled with during their first years; now, however, faculty like Donna Llewellyn and Carole Moore feel that Tech is on the road to equality.
The history of women at Georgia Tech tends to concentrate on the progress of the female student body, yet there was, and still is, a parallel advancement in the women who are faculty, staff and administration.
In 1913, Georgia Tech established a School of Commerce to provide the necessary basic business training that the administration felt was lacking in the curriculum. In the fall of 1917, women were admitted to the school’s evening program, and 1919 saw Anna Teitelbaum Wise become Tech’s first graduate from the School. Wise hit another milestone later that year when she joined the faculty of the evening school as instructor of commerce, officially becoming the first female faculty member at Tech.
This feat wouldn’t be repeated until 1960, when Dr. Mary K. Cabell joined the Department of Mathematics. Since then, Tech has seen a steady rise in the number of women in its faculty and staff, paralleling the growth of its female student body. In fact, it is partially due to the increase of the female student population that Tech hired more women faculty.
“It [was] colder for some women, not being included as easily in design projects... not being called on in class,” said Dr. Carole E. Moore, describing Tech’s female student body as of 1980.
Currently serving as Director of Academic Services, Moore was hired 23 years ago to deal with women’s issues on campus. And fitting into Tech herself, she said, was just as challenging. “The part that was very difficult was learning how to function in a predominantly male environment.”
Yet women joined the faculty because they were needed. “In my early days, women students were hungry for contact with women professors, and it was gratifying to be able to serve as a role model and mentor,” said Dr. Donna Llewellyn, Director of CETL, who was hired by the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering in 1984.
And they’re still needed. Women like Amy Stalzer, Assistant Director of Success Programs and Director of FASET Orientation, joined the Success Programs staff four years ago to assist in freshmen orientation. “I’ve only had a couple of experiences here where I’ve gone into a meeting and been the only woman at the table. So that’s enough experience, maybe, to drive home what it might feel like for our students, but not enough to make me feel special in any way,” said Stalzer. “I interact with equal numbers of men and women, given the job that I work at...[and] I’ve got a lot of colleagues at my level that I rely heavily on for moral support, both men and women.”
However, those who have been employed at Tech for much longer have noticed the change. “I hear of fewer and fewer problems,” said Llewellyn. “Perhaps I have been around for too long to be very objective about this, [but] I think that if I were dropped onto Tech’s campus today without my history, I would see a basically fair place.”
But only fair in that women in Tech’s workforce are not discriminated against based on their gender. For example, women in the faculty have a hierarchical advantage over those in the staff. According to both Moore and Llewellyn, the faculty is at the top, since they’re the ones that carry out the Institute’s primary educational mission.
The staff finds itself on the other end. “Since in our world, men and ethnically majority people are above women and ethnic minorities, staff women too often come out at the bottom of the heap,” explained Llewellyn. “Faculty women at least have the advantage of their doctorate and the authority of being a faculty member.”
There are also more women on the staff side, as Stalzer pointed out, who fulfill stereotypically traditional roles. “My role tends to be a caregiver-like role, which is more traditionally a woman’s role,” she said. “I think that a lot of women on campus who are administrators have more that kind of role.”
Tech’s students may expect that. “I think students have a different approach to female staff members and female faculty members,” said Stalzer. “I think there is an expectation that if you are female, you’re going to be more warm and fuzzy, and you’re going to be more caring or nurturing or concerned about you as a student than a male counterpart might be.”
Moore recalled how some students-both men and women-sometimes prefer to speak to a man in a position of authority instead of a woman.
Stalzer noted that the movement for women’s equality on campus has come so far that “our women students aren’t necessarily in tune with things that might be based on them being women. I’ve had discussions with students before about [whether] they feel like they’re pointed out more or that they’re treated differently, and most of them seemed shocked that I would even ask the question.”
But it isn’t perfect. “I still think they face some more difficulties than their male counterparts simply because there are still biases in the engineering and technology worlds,” said Llewellyn. “A student told me in the mid-1990s that ‘Tech will have arrived at a fair place when mediocre women can come and be engineering majors here.'”
Regardless, they said, Georgia Tech still harbors a better attitude toward women than society in general.
“Dr. Clough has set a tone that everybody at GT is valued and that we don’t hold different standards for people of different genders, or things like that, but we’re one community and we’ve got to operate that way,” said Stalzer. “I think that nobody at GT would overtly and knowingly discriminate against a woman here.”
Moore agreed. “We do a better job because we are an educational institution. I would just hope that we don’t become complacent in thinking women have achieved equality in our society. It’s a continual process."