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History

History

A pioneering gender research institute since 1974

Over forty years ago, a small group of Stanford women were brought together by a daring and inspired vision. They aspired to build a university center that could harness the power of empirical research about women in order to promote gender equality. That day, students Beth Garfield, Susan Heck, and Cynthia Russell met at the office of Stanford Business School Professor Myra Strober, and an ambitious and far-reaching plan was hatched.  

 

Cynthia Russell, Beth Garfield, Myra Strober, Susan Heck, and Jing Lyman

This fearless foursome worked over the next several months to turn their dream into reality. They managed to win support from faculty and staff, as well as the backing of the woman who would become the Institute’s de facto “guardian angel,” Jing Lyman, the wife of then Stanford President Richard Lyman. In 1974, the Stanford Center for Research on Women—CROW—opened its doors, with Strober as its first director.

CROW, now the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, quickly became a national hub for both cutting-edge research and interdisciplinary dialogue on women’s issues and established Stanford as a leading pioneer in gender scholarship. At a time when the number of college courses relating to women could barely fill a single page of a course guide, the Institute launched the Task Force on the Study of Women. Its work eventually led to the creation of the Feminist Studies Program at Stanford in 1981. 

During its second decade, the Institute initiated its ongoing trend of focusing research and programming efforts around a specific theme chosen by the new incoming director, which enabled it to leverage each new director’s expertise and networks in a given discipline. The Institute launched this initiative by first addressing the issue of health in relation to women and gender; it then moved on to focus on gender and aging.

As its third decade began, the theme shifted to harnessing the power of sex and gender analyses for discovery and innovation in science and technology. Several initiatives that were created as a result of the Institute’s thematic focus have led to new independent university research centers or programs, underscoring the Institute’s ability to act as “incubator” and launch pad for new initiatives. 

“There were so few people doing research on women,” Strober said, “that...we welcomed them all.” 

From the moment it was launched, Stanford’s Center for Research on Women played an unprecedented role in bringing together Stanford students, faculty, and community members interested in cross-disciplinary dialogue on women’s issues. “There were so few people doing research on women,” Strober said, “that whoever was, wanted to be associated with the Institute, and we welcomed them all.” The Center, initially housed at Polya Hall, was “interdisciplinary from the beginning,” noted Strober, who was director from 1974 to 1976, and again from 1979 to 1984. 

CROW’s status as a pioneering leader in academic research on women’s issues was firmly established within two years of the Center’s founding, when it hosted a national conference on women’s research.

On campus, the relatively low number of Stanford tenure-track faculty members involved in research on women spurred Center leadership to reach beyond campus schools and departments for researchers. Marilyn Yalom became CROW's first research scholar. From 1976 to 1987, she also was CROW's Chief Administrative Officer, and then served as director from 1984 to 1985. Yalom initiated the Visiting and Affiliated Scholars Programs, which granted library resources, connections and credentials to outside scholars who were associated with the Stanford community or other universities, and those conducting independent research. 
 
“At a time when we had few women faculty at Stanford, and few feminist voices, Yalom recalled, it was really essential to bring in the visiting and affiliate scholars to contribute. One of the things I feel proudest about is that we helped a lot of people early in their careers, and seeded some of the professorships [these women secured] elsewhere.” 
 
Yalom was also responsible for organizing annual conferences and the quarterly lecture program that would later be renamed the Jing Lyman Lecture series. She also launched the Institute’s long tradition of collaborative publications, beginning with Victorian Women. The book grew out of an experimental CROW course, “The Female Experience: Victorian Heritage.”  “The publications took off! Yalom exclaimed. Once people knew about our conferences, and that our discussions would lead to publication, we got a lot of people interested—men as well as women.” 
 
In 1980, CROW’s role in the national spotlight was further assured when it became home to the highly respected feminist journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. “Signs was extraordinary, Strober reflected. I mean, talk about achievements...we had this amazing journal here, and feminism was just bursting internationally, and we were trying to get our heads around all of it.” Led by future Institute Director Barbara Gelpi, the CROW team members who worked on Signs “were really at the forefront of feminist scholarship,” Strober said, because we were some of the very first scholars to see these articles that were coming in for our review.” 

 

One of CROW’s most important and lasting contributions to the university during this period was its formation of the Task Force on the Study of Women. Beginning with the directorship of Dianne Middlebrook, CROW members advised the university on developing courses and programming that eventually led to the creation of the Feminist Studies Program at Stanford. “In the beginning,” Yalom said “what we did was send a note around to each department asking, ‘Do you have any courses on women, and can we list them?’ The first time I put them together, it was just the front and back of a page. Five years later, the time was ripe.” With input from the CROW Task Force, Stanford’s Feminist Studies debuted in 1981, sharing space with the Center at its new home in Serra House.    
 
With passage into its second decade came a change in the Center’s name to the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG). The change reflected an expansion of the Institute’s scope in response to evolving concepts—and vocabulary—regarding the study of women’s issues in the larger context of society. Judith Brown, the Acting Director from 1985 to 1986, described them as “intense and lively. This is because the concept of ‘gender’ that we use so casually now was almost unknown in 1985.”
 
In the end, following Director Deborah Rhode (1986-1990) said, “We thought that a name that talked about women and gender was more inclusive, and a more accurate description of the work that was going on under Institute auspices.” Over the next few decades, the Institute and its research activities would act as an incubator for the genesis of specific focus area projects, and, eventually, mechanisms for change. 

“On every major index of social and political power, economic resources and personal security, women still fare worse than men, Rhode observed. So we really have a far distance to go to achieve the aspirations of full equality that underpin institutes like the Clayman Institute.” 

Another key initiative came to fruition during this period: the creation of a faculty women’s caucus to raise and publicize issues relating to Stanford women faculty. “We were instrumental in getting the university to publish salary information broken down by gender,” Rhode observed, “getting leadership to rethink its parental leave policy [which, at the time was nonexistent], and more systematically scrutinize policies and practices regarding gender, such as pay equity, child care, [and] promotion rates.”  
 
With the appointment of Iris Litt as Director in 1990 came the launching of  several programs that examined the role of gender in adolescent and women’s health. Inspired by the realization that women had been historically excluded from medical research and discovery, IRWG undertook a campus-wide initiative to stimulate interest among Stanford faculty in conducting research to fill the resulting gap in knowledge in this area. In addition, Litt, a Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical School, recalled her efforts to inspire colleagues at the Institute to “look at the interface between health issues and the [women’s research] they were doing.”
 
Under Litt’s directorship, the Institute initiated such programs as a weekly women’s health research seminar series for undergraduates and a fellowship training program for researchers designed to reduce gender bias in health studies. 

 

Former Directors: Strober, Schiebinger, Rhode, Middlebrook, & Gelpi

As the Institute moved into its third decade, the endowment of the Director’s Chair in 1997 provided a significant boost to its financial security and longevity. Litt remembers her work helping to secure this important source of support: “Happily, [Director’s Chair donor] Barbara Finberg had the pleasure of not only seeing the directorate established, but also seeing [next Institute Director] Laura Carstensen named as the first Barbara Finberg Director of the Institute.” 

Carstensen, who served as director from 1997 to 2001, oversaw the shift in the Institute’s focus from women and gender differences in health to the issues of aging and longevity. Under Carstensen’s leadership, the Institute launched its innovative “Difficult Dialogues” program, a collaborative effort that gathered together experts from a variety of disciplines to examine a pressing topic, over a period of time, and create policy recommendations. The first program, whose results were presented in 2000, focused on “Aging in the 21st Century.” The goal, Carstensen said, was “to bring people into the work of the Institute that didn’t necessarily think the way many of the leaders in this area think, nationally and locally, so that we could have serious, empirically-informed conversations and debates about critical issues facing women in this country and globally.”
 
A significant development as Carstensen’s period as director came to a close in 2001 was the Institute’s move from the Office of Research and Graduate Policy to the School of Humanities and Sciences, providing access to the School’s resources and networks. The Institute’s drafting of a formal mission statement and its move to Humanities and Sciences during this period were an important signal to key financial supporters. Both these things really heartened Institute donor Michelle Clayman,” Gelpi said.  “I can hear her voice: ‘This is music to my ears!’” 
 
After Stanford authorized an outside search for the Institute’s next director, Gelpi oversaw the search process that yielded Pennsylvania State historian of science Londa Schiebinger for the job. Upon Schiebinger’s arrival at Stanford in 2004, one of the key things I was tasked with was raising the Institute’s endowment. Over the next few years, Schiebinger oversaw an ambitious fundraising effort that resulted in a $10 million endowment. In honor of the campaign’s major donor, Michelle R. Clayman, the Institute was renamed the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, setting the stage for future growth and increased impact through the continuing support of Institute donors.  
 
Under Schiebinger, the Institute shifted its thematic focus to the role of sex and gender in science, medicine, and engineering research and development. Only a year after her arrival, the Institute hosted a conference on “Gendered Innovations in Science and Technology,” exploring how to harness the creative power of sex and gender analyses for discovery and innovation. Schiebinger also launched a Faculty Research Fellowship program: “We wanted to bring faculty together for a full year,” she said, “and this enabled us to formalize things.”
 
An Institute study of “Dual-Career Academic Couples” resulted in an influential report to assist academic institutions in the recruitment and retention of women. A second study and report addressed women’s challenges in Silicon Valley in “Climbing the Technical Ladder.” Also during this period, the Institute’s Serra House found a permanent home near Bechtel International Center, and, in 2009, its monthly online publication Gender Newslaunched. 

 

Londa Schiebinger, Michelle Clayman, Myra Strober

Under current director Shelley Correll, the Institute is "Moving Beyond the Stalled Gender Revolution” to examine causes and potential solutions for the lack of progress in achieving gender equity in academia and professional life. In discussing the Institute’s current focus area, Correll points out that this issue affects women across a wide range of fields: “People who are at the medical school, or in engineering, or computer science,” she says, “have seen these stalls in their own professions, and can see themselves in this theme as well.” 
 
After taking the director job in 2010, Correll oversaw the launch of the Institute’s Voice & Influence Program, which, she said, was designed “to enhance women’s voices and the amount of influence they have in their departments, in public debate, on campus and beyond. The program focused first on female faculty, and was subsequently adapted to address other populations: graduate students, women professionals in corporate environments, and even middle and high school girls. 
 
A second major initiative was the Institute’s research project “Redefining, Redesigning Work,” which examined how the structure of work—and the definition and measurement of performance—can be redesigned to enable employees and organizations to better achieve their full potential. The project brought together approximately hundreds of faculty, researchers, and business leaders for collaboration that “bridges the actual academic—workplace divide,” Correll noted, which is “absolutely crucial for making progress.” The summit resulted in asking new research questions, publishing new research, and creating new collaborations.
 
The Institute’s work on women's leadership and its growing collaboration with partners outside academia culminated in the May 2014 launch of the Center for Women’s Leadership. While the Institute’s ongoing agenda is one of broad, interdisciplinary research on women and gender issues, the Center focuses on conducting research about women's leadership,  promoting women’s representation in leadership positions, applying evidence-based research to develop programming and solutions that empower women, and creating inclusive workplaces and institutions. The Center’s Corporate Partners Program brings together academics and professional leaders from companies representing a variety of industries to share research and best practices. 

"Problems today are just too complex for people to be off in their silos doing their own thing," Correll said. "We’ve got to be talking to each other." 

Correll’s other key priority in moving beyond the stalled gender revolution is to advance women’s leadership via continued partnerships between academia and people in the corporate sector and the government sector. “I think we’ve gotten as far as we’re going to get with gender scholars doing their work at the university, and industry or government people trying to come up with policies not informed by gender research," Correll asserted. "Problems today are just too complex for people to be off in their silos doing their own thing. We’ve got to be talking to each other.” 

Correll at the Fall 2017 Corporate Partners Meeting

The Corporate Partners Program has explored new frontiers of understanding and engagement, and it has allowed the Institute to test its research-based education as a foundation for shifting culture and mindsets.

The success of the program has resulted in a new kind of collaboration: a "virtuous cycle"—to invoke the mission of the Institute's founding director, Myra Strober—of creating and then putting research into action. By 2017, nearly fifty companies have joined the Corporate Partners Program. 

The Center's Beyond Bias Summit was held on March 2 and 3, 2017, at Stanford University, and hosted in partnership with the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The summit focused on evidence-based solutions to blocking gender bias and redefining leadership, with the goal of unlocking new opportunities to drive innovation by harnessing the power of diverse teams. The event combined cutting-edge gender research, field-tested change models, and innovative thinking to move beyond the stalled gender revolution. Research presentations, design workshops, executive panels, and Q&As with experts and practitioners identified actionable strategies to minimize gender bias in people processes,  explored the connection between cultural signals and the successful retention and advancement of women, and studied the link between innovation, inclusion, and business success. 

Also under the current auspices of the Institute's theme of Moving Beyond the Stalled Gender Revolution is the focus on intergenerational mentorship through internships and research. Helmed by Associate Director Alison Dahl Crossley, Institute researchers  and staff work alongside student research assistants and interns to conduct research that examines why the gender revolution has stalled in order to discover workable solutions to advance gender equality. 

The current research on sexual assault is based on a student-led project and is informed in part by the Institutes most recent symposium series, Breaking the Culture of Sexual Assault.

In 2017, the Institute renewed its focus on translation in an effort to reach more diverse audiences. It has done so through revamping its annual publication, upRising, and establishing the Feminist Writing Fellowship for undergraduate and graduate students. The new fellowship program trains students to learn the writing and analytical skills to effectively communicate information, as well as to parse information through a gender lens as part of the Institute's deeper committment to educating the next generation of feminist leaders.

In 2018, the Center for Women's Leadership was endowed by VMware, launching the new Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab as a new entity that will foster broad collaboration across research and practice and act as a hub to generate solutions for change.