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.
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 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.”
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.”
"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.”
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.
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 Institute’s 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.