October 30, 2013

Gender Disparity Still Visible in Leadership Of Some Cornell Student Organizations

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Sixty-three years after student organizations at Cornell were officially gender desegregated, gender equality has become more prevalent in the leadership of student organizations including the Student Assembly, Haven and the Cornell University Program Board. But within the executive boards of some of Cornell’s largest business clubs lies a stark contrast: much like the professions they prepare members for, these boards remain predominantly male.

According to the Cornell Consulting Club’s website, its eight-member executive board consists of one female and seven males. Similarly, the executive board of the Mutual Investment Club of Cornell consists of 16 males and one female, according to its website.

Raimund Riedl ’14, president of Cornell Consulting Club, declined to comment on the gender disparity in the club’s leadership.

According to Prof. Ileen A. Devault, industrial and labor relations, male dominance in business clubs on college campuses is an expected phenomenon.

“I find it sad, but I don’t find it all that surprising,” Devault said about the gender inequality.

Devault added that the relatively low number of women in the high ranks of business clubs is consistent with a report conducted by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009, which found that roughly 22 percent of chief executives are female.

“Most people who are going to join a business club on a college campus imagine themselves as CEOs someday, and that means they are most likely male,” Devault said. “It’s hard for a women to imagine herself as something she’s never seen.”

In contrast, the Student Assembly’s Fall 2013 executive board is about 45 percent female and 55 percent male, according to the S.A.’s website. This is an improvement on previous years: over the last six years, the percentage of females in the S.A. has ranged from 14 to zero percent, according to the S.A.’s website.

Juliana Batista ’16, vice president of outreach for the S.A., said she thinks females are well represented in the organization this year, adding that previous executive boards have been largely male due to a lack of female interest in attaining such positions.

“I would say that this year the ratio is fairly good,” Batista said. “I think, in terms of student politics, it’s not that we aren’t encouraging women to go out for these positions –– it’s just who’s naturally drawn to them and who has the best platform.”

Haven also reported having nearly equal representation of genders in its executive board over the last three years, according to Jadey Huray ’14, president of Haven.

The current board consists of two females, two males and one individual who identifies as genderqueer –– a blanket term including all gender identities apart from male and female. Haven’s past two executive boards were 60% and 40% female respectively, Huray said.

Huray emphasized the importance of recognizing “that gender is much more complex than the mainstream notion of gender as being male or female.”

Although many view gender as a binary, Huray said in an email, gender should be viewed as a spectrum, as many gender variants exist beyond traditional male-female definitions.

“Haven [makes] a strong effort to not discriminate based on gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation,” Huray said. “[We] ensure that we consistently reach out to unrepresented identities on our executive board to ensure greater diversity.”

The Cornell University Program Board has also demonstrated about equal female representation in its executive boards over the past three years, according to Richmond Wong, chairperson of CUPB. Currently, CUPB’s executive board is 50% female. In 2011 and 2012, its executive board was 33% female, while in 2010, it was 50% female, Wong said.

Despite the predominantly male composition of the executive boards of some of Cornell’s largest on-campus business organizations, Devault expressed hope for the future of female leadership in the corporate world.

“I don’t think it’s the near future, but I think there’s a tendency for all these things to equal out eventually,” Devault said.