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Commission marks 20 years promoting gender equity
by Coleman Cornelius | Illustration by Dave Cutler
When Sue James started as an assistant professor more than 20 years ago, CSU did not have a parental leave policy for faculty on campus. That became clear in 1997 as James anticipated her first child.
Her department head “really didn’t know what to do, because no one in mechanical engineering had ever given birth,” she recalled.
Now, James is head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering – an expert in designing medical implants for knees and hearts – and she serves as chair of the President’s Commission on Women and Gender Equity. She shared her anecdote about maternity leave during a fall celebration to mark the commission’s 20th anniversary and the strides it has helped achieve at CSU on significant employment and cultural issues, including parental leave policies, workforce gender diversity, sexual violence, and salary equity.
In 2016-2017, the University had a total of more than 7,200 employees, and 52 percent were women, according to the most recent institutional records. Yet, women composed just 37 percent of tenure-track faculty, reflecting a broad trend of often diminishing opportunities for women in senior and leadership positions.
“Now is a time to take this 20-year celebration and use it as a pivot point, to lean in to cultural change and to really make more of a difference,” President Tony Frank urged a crowd gathered at the Lory Student Center Theatre for an anniversary event.
To illustrate, James donned a hat that mimics the breaking of a glass ceiling.
“When I walked out of my first commission meeting almost two decades ago, the glass ceiling was so far above my head, and really above all of our heads, that we couldn’t even see it. Well, today, I would posit that we’re right here,” she said, pointing to the visual aid. “We’re breaking through the ceiling, but we’re not through it yet. And guess what? This is an uncomfortable position to be in.”
Yet discomfort, James noted, is inherent in change.