For years the same concerns have troubled many Virginia Tech employees. They run the gamut, from not enough options for child care to the need for parity in university policies for faculty, staff, and students.

A campus group is working to understand and find solutions for some of these concerns.

Gender@VT is a new council formed last fall to research and suggest ideas to improve the work/life environment for employees and students at Virginia Tech.

Many of the issues affect both women and men, but often they fall disproportionately on women. The 23-member council, composed of staff, faculty, and students, meets every other week.

“We want to help people have conversations about gender on campus,” said Sally Morton, dean of the College of Science and co-chair of Gender@VT. Andrew McCoy, head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, also is co-chair of Gender@VT.

Morton, McCoy
Sally Morton (left), dean of the College of Science, and Andrew McCoy, head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, are co-chairs of Gender@VT.

The council’s creation stems from a request by the Women’s Alliance, a university caucus that advocates for equity and inclusion at Virginia Tech. Representatives for the alliance asked Virginia Tech President Tim Sands to create a special group to address some of the core concerns that the caucus heard from faculty, staff, and students.

Robin Queen, co-chair of the Women’s Alliance, is one of several who led this push. Of the issues, she said a lack of quality child care and resources to care for the elderly in the region were two of the top concerns.

“They came up in every alliance meeting,” said Queen, who is an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics.

Since it was formed, the council has invited different experts to speak at its meetings, including directors of both adult day care and child care centers and gender studies faculty.

“I hope that we are able to impact the environment and experiences for women and ensure equitable implementation of policies for all genders,” said Menah Pratt-Clarke, Virginia Tech’s vice president for strategic affairs and vice provost for inclusion and diversity. She is helping to manage and guide Gender@VT.

The council formed three subcommittees focused on the individual core concerns — child care/elder care, policy, and institutional change.

The subcommittees are tasked with creating recommendations and eventually presenting short-, medium-, and long-term goals to Sands. The council will take a break this summer and resume in the fall.

“Without such a committee, the concerns of people get directed to different places,” said Anisa Zvonkovic, co-chair of the child care/elder care subcommittee and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “Their voices could be really muted.”

She said her committee hopes to devise an economically equitable solution to the child care dilemma that would help all Virginia Tech employees, regardless of employment status. Her department houses several related centers and labs, including the Child Development Center for Learning and Research and Adult Day Services.

But finding concrete solutions for many of the concerns may take a while. “This will not be solved in one year,” Morton said.

David Gerrard, co-chair of the policy subcommittee, said his group is reviewing university policies related to gender, such as maternity and paternity leave and modified duties for tenured and tenure track faculty, as well as broader areas of inclusion and equity.

“Everyone’s hoping to make this a better place to work, across genders and across any other barriers,” said Gerrard, who heads the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone