OPINION: USC faculty demographics need to better reflect gender diversity

International Women’s Day is dedicated to the celebration of womanhood, female empowerment and gender equality. However, it is also a day to raise awareness surrounding the continued inequalities women still face — many of which are apparent on campus. While women no longer represent the gender minority of students at USC, they still make up less than half of USC faculty, according to the USC Office of Institutional Research. Though the University claims to have a diverse campus, it is clear more work must be done to increase female representation among University faculty. 

A lack of female representation in faculty and leadership can be detrimental for students. Failing to see women in leadership, teaching and research positions reinforces sexist stereotypes in higher education — a field that is already perceived as both majority male and intended for males to dominate. This feeds into insecurities many female students interested in pursuing careers in higher education face because it perpetuates perceptions that it is much harder for women to achieve tenure and reach equality in academia. For male students, a lack of female representation can also purvey the inaccurate notion that women should not be viewed as their equals in the field. 

The Viterbi School of Engineering already has fewer female students than males, according to the school’s self-reported numbers, and the gender inequalities in faculty only contribute to harmful stereotypes about STEM fields. The tokenization of women and domination of males in STEM are exacerbated by the minimal representation of female students and faculty. Women are viewed as particularly gifted to have made their way into male-dominated classrooms, rather than inherently capable of doing so. Meanwhile, men continue to monopolize the field. 

The lack of female faculty also decreases the quality of relationships between students and professors. While the number  of female students indicate an increased amount of gender equality, a lack of female professors limits the professors’ relatability to their students. Young women lacking female professors may feel less inclined to view their professors as mentors and role models. Conversely, male students are given the advantage of having a broader range of mentors and role models to choose from.

At USC, tenure-track faculty is 42.4 percent female. Only 26.2 percent of tenured faculty is female. Male faculty also make up the majority within all fields of study on campus, according to the USC Office of Institutional Research. Female representation in faculty is particularly low in the field of science and engineering, comprising 32.9 percent of staff on tenure-track, and only 15.1 percent of tenured faculty. 

USC also falls behind in gender diversity and equality with regard to leadership on campus. Among the 21 academic deans, only eight are female. Within the pool of 29 USC Distinguished Professors, only six are female. Interim President Wanda Austin was the University’s first-ever female president, and it is important for students to see more women like her represented in positions of power. 

USC touts its diversity standards, reaching new levels of diversity with every admitted class, according to USC News. However, the blatant lack of tenured and tenure-track female professors in addition to female leaders, contradicts this statement entirely. As a university seeking to attain a position of influence in the global sphere, it is essential for USC to maintain integrity in its diversity efforts. USC must model gender equality in students’ academic experiences, across all facets of the community. A failure to do so only sends a message of insincerity and ultimately, gender discrimination.