Improving Working Environments One Statistic At A Time

In the early 1970’s, Dr. Janet Malley had just graduated from Boston University with a degree in government, and her first job was brewing coffee. Malley remembers her boss demanding that she make coffee daily after his morning tennis match. “He wanted his coffee when he came to the office, and I wasn’t particularly interested in making it,” says Malley. She continues, “I didn’t mind coming to work when I was supposed to and doing my job, but I didn’t consider coffee making part of it.”

Dr. MalleyHistorically, career opportunities available to women have been limited, and directed to certain fields, Malley says. Thinking back on her first job, Malley commented, “ I think that the type of job I could get out of college was secretarial says a lot about what kinds of opportunities were open to me.” While none of her male colleges who graduated from college became secretaries, Malley held various secretarial positions after undergrad. “It wasn’t that they were more qualified or smarter. It was harder for me to break through and to do the kinds of things I wanted to do,” says Malley.

Malley, 63, Ann Arbor, eventually did break through and is currently the Director of Research and Evaluation of the ADVANCE program at the University of Michigan. The ADVANCE program aims at improving the working climate for women and minority groups in fields where underrepresentation of these groups is evident. With the initial focus on providing more opportunities for women, Malley and another colleague wrote the grant for the ADVANCE program. What began as a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2002, developed into a permanent program at the University of Michigan due to its success. For the past twelve years, Malley says she focused her efforts on discovering and trying to resolve the factors that are inhibiting women from professionally flourishing.

Growing up on the outskirts of Boston, neither psychology nor research attracted her attention. Yet, spurred by her fascination of statistical analysis she discovered while holding an administration position at the Radcliff College data depository, Malley returned to Boston University to obtain her Ph.D. in psychology. Malley admits that her personal experiences and beliefs motivate her research, which focuses on women’s lives and the factors prohibiting women from succeeding. “I am a feminist,” Malley says, “I looked at the world that way, and I didn’t like that I saw there were discrepancies. There were opportunities that my male counterparts had access to that I did not.”

Every job she has held after receiving her Ph.D. placed Malley in a position to help eliminate those discrepancies. She returned to the Radcliff College Data depository with her Ph.D. to aid researchers collecting data on women’s lives. From there she accepted the position of Associate Director at the Institute of Research on Women and Gender, where she wrote the grant for the ADVANCE program with the other director. As the Director of Research and Evaluation at the ADVANCE program, her interest in women’s lives has not altered, but has become more specific in terms of the underrepresentation of women in certain work fields.

“Rate of participation of women in the sciences has been fairly flat for a long time,” says Malley, “All people are a resource, and we are not taking advantage of that resource.” With over thirty years of research experience behind her, Malley and her research team are dedicated to continuing to identify factors prohibiting women. Despite slow progress, new data is continually collected and analyzed. “This doesn’t happen over night. It requires a sustained effort,” says Malley. Malley determination extends to all aspects of her research, even her research team. Sara Bliss, a member of Malley’s research team says, “She always challenges us to try to new things.”

As a mother, an avid knitter, a retired secretary, and a researcher, Malley’s goal is to see an appropriate representation of women in science fields. Though her hobbies of gardening and cooking are typically stereotyped as womanly activities, her goal is not have certain occupations be associated with gender. “You don’t want to have a department of all white men. That is not what this country looks like, “ says Malley, “departments should reflect what the population looks like, and that benefits everyone.”

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