This March, we mark the first Women’s History Month since a woman (of color, I might add) was sworn into the second highest elected office in the nation. We don’t have to look far to see women making history, even at UNLV: Two female geoscience professors from UNLV on the Mars 2020 science team? Yes.
There are incredible contributions by women throughout human history. But Women’s History Month isn’t just about history. It serves a much bigger purpose: to increase awareness and bring to the forefront those who are overlooked. I believe celebrating Women’s History Month, LGBT History Month, Black History Month, and Latinx History Month, among others, help us to be aware of our deficits. It reminds us to elevate all of society to the same field of play so we can achieve true equity. It calls on our shared humanity to honor each other’s contributions every day and to strengthen everyone’s place in the fabric of American society.
When I think about the women in my life, I am in awe of all they have meant to me and have contributed to the world around them. My mother was a role model in my life. She chose to serve others as a nurse. Her work inspired my interest in psychology and my research into the factors that impact health care among underserved populations.
As a father of three daughters, I know what it means to be a girl dad. I wanted all of my children (including my son) to have every opportunity to thrive and succeed. In my mind, it didn’t matter what their gender was, especially when there were chores to do, when grades came in, or when they wanted to participate in activities like student government. But the reality is that I couldn’t guarantee fairness and opportunity in their school or work life. I could advocate for them and teach them to advocate for themselves. I see the inequity they experienced as girls and still experience as adult women.
By recognizing women’s significant contributions now in our schools, workplaces, and in society as a whole, we all can make the need for Women’s History Month, well, history. This is where men come in: We help to change this by using our voices for the girls and women in our lives. When they can’t speak, or can’t be heard, we help them be heard. We become more aware so we can point out when the playing field isn’t level. We identify our personal bias, the bias in the systems that disadvantage them, and we work to fix the systems for everyone.
As a university, we can do this work by identifying and eliminating unconscious bias in hiring, promotion, and retention practices. Those of us who can must advocate for women – and people of color – to be at the table and have their voices heard because the power differential is rarely in their favor. We must establish and hold ourselves to a higher standard and embrace the accompanying difficult conversations that are required for us advance as an equitable and inclusive university.
This conversation feels especially timely as, last week, UNLV was recognized as a leader among America’s higher education institutions where women are top earners. I am very grateful for the outstanding contributions of my colleagues and proud of our institution for receiving this acknowledgment of our progress. We celebrate this honor, yet we do so understanding it is incremental progress toward our greater goals – achieving pay and gender parity at all levels of UNLV and recruiting and retaining faculty and staff of color.
We have work to do, but it is meaningful work we can do together. As we recognize Women’s History Month, I hope you will heed the call and use your voice to advocate for others. It takes each one of us to build a more equitable UNLV that serves everyone.