From 'Pale Males' to the Growing Gender Diversity of Emory's Board of Trustees

From 'Pale Males' to the Growing Gender Diversity of Emory's Board of Trustees

by Susan Carini

It might surprise more than a few of us to learn that Emory’s first female trustee was appointed before Emory’s policy on coeducation, enacted in 1953. It is, after all, not unusual for boards to lag behind an institution’s student ranks in terms of their diversity.

To its credit, Emory welcomed Letitia “Lettie” Pate Evans Whitehead (shown above)—an American businesswoman and philanthropist—as a trustee in 1944. She served until 1953, the very year that Emory admitted female students. Evans is honored for her groundbreaking achievement through the freshman hall named for her in 2008.

A rather large gap ensued before Mary Lynn Morgan 43D—a pediatric dentist—became the second woman to join the board. Her term spanned nearly 20 years, from 1974 to 1991, and she took the important step of participating in committee work and other leadership roles. Her impact at Emory goes well beyond the board: in 1987 she received the Emory Medal, and in 1999 the Emory Center for Women inaugurated the Mary Lynn Morgan annual lectureship in her honor. She is currently a trustee emerita.

In 1983 Laura Jones Hardman joined the board and, as with the other two women, trod new ground. An honors graduate of Emory College, Hardman was employed at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and, from 1969 to 1974, at Great American Mortgage Investors. In 1975 she became executive vice president of the Wakefield Company, leaving the next year to become operations manager for the Carter-Mondale Transition Planning Group.

Hardman is about to celebrate her 30th year on the board and counts an Emory Medal among her university honors. As Hardman—who chairs the Campus Life Committee, serves on the Executive Committee, and is secretary of the board—reflects on her distinguished service, she remembers her immediate predecessor, saying, “I joined Dr. Mary Lynn Morgan, whom I greatly admired and who was a wonderful model for me of an engaged and effective trustee. As Emory became increasingly diverse after becoming coeducational and integrated, the board likewise has become more intentionally diverse, particularly through the alumni trustees, who come from all over the country with backgrounds and experience that add value to the governing decisions of the board.”

From ‘Pale Males’ to the Growing Gender Diversity of Emory’s Board of TrusteesHardman is candid about opportunities that trustees of her stripe will begin to give to new members. “There are a number of ‘senior’ trustees like myself,” she notes, “who have served for many years and/or are approaching the ‘emeritus’ age of 70, which provides opportunity for increasing diversity among trustees who will govern during what I believe will be an ongoing upward trajectory for Emory.”

Since 2006 the number of voting trustees on the board who are women has increased from six to 12. Of the total number of new trustees added, more than 40 percent were women, nearly reflecting the percentage of women in the alumni body. Most everyone, from Board Chair Ben Johnson 65C on through the trustee ranks, credits University Secretary and Vice President Rosemary Magee with enabling this transformation during her seven years as liaison to the board. “Rosemary keeps me focused and the board focused,” Johnson acknowledges.

No matter how serious the subject, one can always count on Johnson’s wry humor. He indicated that in 1995, the year he became chair, “It was perfectly obvious that the board looked like a bunch of pale males.” He says, “We needed to break the mindset that we were comfortable just as we were and that it would be easier if we just kept it as it always had been.” Referring to the current women serving on the board, Johnson says, “There is so much capacity among them.”

Helping tamp down the ‘pale-male’ syndrome, Chilton Varner joined in 1995 as well. Varner joined King & Spalding in 1976 after receiving her JD with distinction, Order of the Coif, from Emory School of Law. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Smith College, she became the second woman partner at King & Spalding in 1983 and the first woman partner in the litigation group.

Citing the “remarkable collegiality” of the board, Varner—currently chair of the  Academic Affairs Committee—observes that diversity has come to the board in a number of ways, including geographically. She joined, she says, “a very Atlanta-centric board.” As far as women are concerned, Varner says, “We have impressive women who have done a lot, who have balanced family and professional responsibilities. They can serve as role models for the bright young women Emory is turning out right now.”

Teresa Rivero 85Ox 87B 93MPH was elected an alumni trustee in 2007 and is vice chair of the Campus Life Committee; she is a lead senior program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, managing its investments in education for Florida, Kentucky, and Georgia.

The youngest female member of the board, Rivero tells a funny story about deciding not to use her trustee hang tag one time—not wanting to seem to exert any privilege—and nearly being refused entry to the trustee parking lot because she apparently didn’t look the part of an Emory trustee. That is a good thing, Rivero asserts, that board members are no longer obvious on sight.

In addition to praising Rosemary Magee’s work, Rivero also acknowledges the role of Vice President of the Emory Alumni Association Allison Dykes, who has worked collaboratively with Magee and many others to create what Rivero calls “an amazing pipeline” of women trustees. All trustees interviewed, including Rivero, see the day of a female chair as being well within reach. In Rivero’s words, “We will make headway toward looking like the backyard that we are in, which is the whole world.”

The last word goes to the current chair, Ben Johnson, who says: “The board is, at best, always an aspiration, another step closer to being perfect. The future of the university is contingent on appropriate governance. If someone wakes up every morning thinking about who next comes on the board, we will be well served.”

Susan Carini 04G is the executive director of Emory Creative Group, a member of the Center for Women Editorial Advisory Board, and serves on the board of directors of Partnership against Domestic Violence and LifeLine Animal Project.