Penn Womens Center: Voices of Change


So, I started my academic career in the mid 1970s when women's issues were just really coming to the fore, big time. When I went into my department there were no other women faculty members, so it was a big issue to just have women present in professional life. Women students flocked to my office hours and asked me to advise their senior thesis on topics that I had no expertise on, because I was a woman and they really yearned for the presence of women role models.

That was true not just for me, but it was true more generally in professional life for women who were entering at the time. There was great opening of opportunity, but it had just begun, just barely begun.

So, things have changed very significantly since the time I began in the academic profession. So, in my field, political science and political theory, there are many more women faculty member now. There are many more women in the professions, but there's still a huge way to go. In some professions, such as business, for example, in the Fortune 500 companies, you'd still search far and wide, there aren't that many women CEOs. I think somewhere about 3% of the Fortune 500 companies CEOs are women. In medicine, in engineering, in the academic professions, in math, in the physical sciences, lots of places there still aren't that many women. So, things have changed significantly, but there's a lot more to be done. 

So, why is it important to increase the proportion of women in the professions? It's a really important question to answer, because I take it for granted that it's important, but there are two really important reasons why. One is that opportunity, equal opportunity, is the foundational value of our society and of all flourishing democracies that it's really important that every individual have equal opportunity to excel and to develop her talents.

The second reason is if we don't have equal opportunity for women, we're not drawing upon half of the human race's talents and to make society progress and make the world progress, we have to draw on the talents of every individual. 

So, the Penn's Women Center is a real physical presence on our campus that reminds us of how important it is that there be equal opportunity for women. It's also a great resource for our women on campus to get advice, to get support, to get the kinds of mentoring and the kind of camaraderie that women need, especially women in underrepresented fields. 

I also think the Women's Center was there in an early time and I'm very proud that Penn supports a women's center, because it's an ongoing reminder, both of the progress women have made, and the progress that still has to be make for women, especially in universities. We're educational institutions, so we should be sending the message loud and clear that equality of women is absolutely essential for not only academic life, but for life more generally on our planet.

I love to talk with Penn women today, because they are ambitious and idealistic and so talented and they often ask me for advice. And the advice I give them is pretty darn simple, which is aim high, continue to break down barriers, because there's still mountains to climb for women and I think the sky's the limit now for women, but it won't happen unless women really, really take on the cause of being leaders and breaking down those barriers that still exist. I also love the fact that our Penn women care about showing that women's equality is key, not only to their flourishing, but to the flourishing of our university, our society and the world.