After the University was recognized as one of the top 10 nonprofit employers for female executives and working mothers, female professors and admistrators lauded the University’s emphasis on a work and life balance for women.
The University was included in the 2013 rankings of the National Association for Female Executives, a women’s professional organization. Cornell has not appeared on the list since 2008.
In addition to recognizing the University for supporting women executives, Cornell was commended for its organizational culture; its work, life and educational programs; and the University’s initative to hire, retain and advance women in the academic fields of science, engineering, math and technology, according to a University press release.
Mary Opperman, vice president of human resources, said she is proud of Cornell’s recognition.
“We apply [to be ranked] so that we can benchmark our practices against companies and organizations across the country and learn about best practices,” Opperman said. “We are always pleased when our own practices are recognized.”
Cornell will receive the NAFE recognition on March 20 in New York City and will be featured in the February/March issue of Working Mother magazine, according to a press release.
Top women executives at the University — including Opperman and Vice Provost Barbara Knuth — said Cornell is actively promoting the advancement of women into leadership positions and providing a supportive environment for women with families.
“I have been promoted, received many opportunities to learn and grow and have [had] the opportunity to work with other dedicated professionals who are committed to the mission of Cornell,” Opperman said.
Many of the University’s top women executives said they have had excellent experiences.
Barbara Knuth, dean of the graduate school, who started working at Cornell in 1986 as an assistant professor in the natural resources department, said she felt supported as she rose through the ranks to become vice provost and dean of the graduate school in 2010.
“Through my entire career at Cornell, I have felt quite supported as a woman in my various positions,” she said.
Women executives and tenured faculty said the University has provided them and their families with a variety of accomodations throughout their careers.
Prof. Susan Fleming, management and organizational behavior, is a single parent with a five-year-old son. She said the School of Hotel Administration has been extremely flexible and supportive.
“It’s okay to have kids. It’s okay to miss a meeting because you have a family commitment. That is one of the reasons I was excited to get the opportunity to be here and love working here,” Fleming said.
The resources available at Cornell range from on-campus child care to flexible work arrangements and parental leave, among others, according to Eileen McCoy Whang, the University’s dependent care consultant.
However, the working environment for women at Cornell has changed significantly over the past two decades, according to Joanne DeStefano, vice president for finance and chief financial officer.
“President [Hunter] Rawlings [III] was the first president to promote women to leadership roles. Since President Rawlings, both President [Jeffery] Lehman and President [David] Skorton have been supportive of women leaders,” DeStefano said.
Women currently represent 50 percent of Cornell’s senior managers and 33 percent of corporate executives, according to NAFE. Additionally, 28 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty members are women.
“Early in my career there were very few role models,” DeStefano said. “Today I feel there are sufficient women leaders to be role models or mentors.”
On NAFE’s Top Ten Nonprofit Companies for Women Executives, all but Cornell are in the healthcare industry. This may be attributed to the fact that, according to Fleming, there is still “work to be done” in terms of the challenges faced by women in academia.
However, Cornell is taking strides in the right direction and has demonstrated a number of initiatives pushing for diversity, Fleming said.
“As a broader institution, my impression of Cornell is that they care about these issues and they want to be supportive of women and especially increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math,” Fleming said.
Fleming added that progress for women in the workplace in general has not reached its peak.
“This award is based on comparisons with other nonprofit organizations, and most organizations, frankly, aren’t great for women,” Fleming said. “Across the corporate world and academia, the bar is not high enough yet.”
The University will continue to pursue improvements for its executives, faculty and employees, according to Opperman.
“Men and women will benefit from a continued emphasis on work [and] family balance,” Opperman said. “Really excellent work comes from really healthy, well balanced workplaces.”