Posted by: codiefrank11 | January 31, 2014

Women’s Representation in Higher Education

As an aspiring higher education professional, I worked to find an article that I could relate to on some level, where I then stumbled upon this article.

Basically, this article begins with Dr. Deborah Rhodes’ story of when she began working at Stanford and was one of two women on a faculty of 36. She depicted how the issue of women in these positions wasn’t highly regarded, which wasn’t surprising to Rhode, since that’s how it was at the academy. It was mentioned that although there has been progress for women, that they still didn’t have the most “visible” positions and how the United States wasn’t pushing the women’s agenda. 

I kept reading, and the amount of essentializing and gender stereotypes and generalities were astounding. She mentions how certain barriers for women derive from their “choice” to opt out of full-time work from the social pressure to do so, based on their gender and tending to maternal needs in the home. This is an obvious representation of the social role theory previously discussed and how women have reached a glass ceiling with their involvement in the workplace. This article was strikingly similar to our most recent lessons in class. However, why is it that our society has constructed these social barriers for women? And why are they so hard for women to break through, but difficult for men?

This article further explains how women choose lower-level positions instead of working for the top. For these barriers and positions women have experienced, how can we generalize all women into that category? Or men for that matter? We know that each sex and gender is different from each other, but there are more extreme differences within a gender than outside of it. It’s very interesting how this article has discussed the power of social pressures and barriers for women — but have reinforced them to some extent through this article as well. The author has definitely taken into account how women have been seen in the past through leadership as well as in the present. However, this does not mean that this is an accurate portrayal of how all women have experienced working in higher education; every person is different and should not be generalized and gendered into a single category.

All-in-all, this article struck me as somewhat defensive and reinforced what we’ve learned as a class. Women have been pushed down over the years but only want to be accepted and included in the workplace, as the author stated at the end of the article. Where do you think, from the author’s standpoint, can women go from here? Are they progressing or no? Do you think that the glass ceiling effect applies to women who choose to work in higher education? Or does the labyrinth effect seem more effective, although it disagrees with the author to some extent? 

I want to hear your opinions of the article and how you think it relates to women in higher education as well as their positions among their peers.


  1. I also feel that this article seemed defensive and reinforced what we have been talking about in class. To answer a few of your questions, I believe it is going to take a lot of work to break through these boundaries that are inhibiting women. Though it seems that some women are able to break through the gender stereotypes and the theoretical “glass ceiling” it almost seems that the author feels that the glass ceiling theory will never be completely forgotten because women are “choosing” these lower level positions, whether it be because of lack of desire to fight or being unable to handle the pressure. I do think the glass ceiling metaphor applies to higher education positions, in that, the glass ceiling metaphor implies an unseen barrier for women seeking higher-level positions (i.e. education, CEO positions, etc.). I also believe the labyrinth applies, but not simply for women. The labyrinth, I believe, applies for all people who have you struggle through barriers, wether they be due to race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender. I was intrigued by this article and thought the review was well written. Your questions caused me to ask myself a lot of the questions we spoke about in class on Tuesday.

  2. I, too, feel as if this article completely reinforces everything we have been talking about in class. Reading this article immediately made me think of the Perils of Positive and Precarious Pedestals by Pittinsky, Bacon, and Welle that we read at the beginning of the semester. Dr. Rhode implies all of the four perils of women in leadership throughout her article: excluding, misrepresenting, molding, and polarizing.

    With excluding, Dr. Rhode touched on how women are often excluded from their roles in higher education due to their personal domestic choices, such as the desire to start a family. Women are immediately excluded from leadership positions due to these socially constructed beliefs that when a woman is a mother, that is all she can do.

    Misrepresenting comes into play with Dr. Rhodes’ discussion about gender stereotypes. While she practically restates everything we have already discussed in class, she ultimately states that gender biases are the main source of misrepresentation. With this, women in general are only viewed as caretakers – which can be beneficial in a learning environment. However, men are the ones with the majority of the jobs. Why?

    I believe that molding and polarizing go hand-in-hand with this article, as women in higher education seem to have to act a certain way. It seems as if they must be solely dedicated to their job rather than their at-home life in order to fully succeed in this position. While this may be interpreted differently by everyone, it is as if women cannot be respected in higher education unless they fit the perfect mold of a dedicated working woman, rather than placing priority on her family.

    This article truly touched me as my older sister is currently pursuing a job in higher education. She is so focused on her job that she has put the desire to have a family on the backburner for now in order to attempt to advance in the work industry. However, although that is her personal choice, I believe that men in the work field must place the same, if not more, emphasis on their jobs than the woman, while also helping at home. Like Dr. Rhode said: “If women are choosing not to ‘run the world, it’s partly because men are choosing not to run the washer/dryer.”

  3. I have considered entering higher education, and I currently work in the Office of Student Affairs. I think that women are well represented in these leadership positions, at least at CNU. The high turnover rate seems to help women get into these jobs and make leaving for pregnancy, etc. easier. When I talk to my female supervisor about her future in higher education, the main thing holding her back from future leadership is her future family. I thought the article’s comment that the household is no more an equal employer than the workplace was interesting. Although it should not be assumed that any gender will be willing to take on the majority of housework, most people assume it will be the woman’s job. As a woman, I do not think I can assume that my husband would be willing to stay at home just as males should not assume that their wives are willing to stay at home. It makes me uncomfortable when the future is made to seem like a choice between future leadership roles and my future family.

  4. One thing that I found interesting in the article was the statistic about women representing the majority of undergraduate students (60%), yet the minority of top-level positions in higher education (20%). There are generally more women enrolled in college and with degrees than men, yet they are still underrepresented in higher education positions. I agree that a lot of it has to do with the glass ceiling effect because once women reach a certain level in their career, it can be difficult to reach the top when the idea of family and home life come into the picture. However, I am seeing more and more women step into higher leadership roles in education. Since my time at CNU, the majority of my professors have actually been females and I know that there are multiple female professors who are the heads of their departments. I think this is tremendous progress that probably wouldn’t have even been seen 10 years ago and this is where the labyrinth effect comes in. I also agree though with the article’s idea that choosing between being a mother and a career woman can be a slippery slope. It has been thought that if a woman chooses to work then she can’t be the best mother she can be and if a woman chooses to devote herself to her children then her work will suffer. I think that this is a mindset our society needs to get out of. Why can’t a woman be a great mother yet still excel at work? Can’t we have both?

  5. I also want to get into higher education so I thought this article and your thoughts about it were interesting. I agree with Bethany that this article seemed kind of defensive and it bothered me a little bit when she talked about making the job more appealing for women. Why not just make the job more appealing in general? One of the things I thought was most interesting though was the bit about in-group favoritism/gender bias. I definitely agree in that I feel more comfortable with “people like me” and when I think about the professors and mentors that have helped me out the most, most of them have been women. Considering that women make up 60% of undergraduates, it would make too much sense to have a comparable percentage of women in leadership positions at a university. It’s just a never-ending circle; many women don’t get the guidance they deserve and may not realize or reach their full potential so women won’t reach those top leadership positions. To answer your question, I think the labyrinth is definitely at play here. There are some women in those leadership positions, but not many; I think this might have to do with the lack of guidance those other women are receiving.

  6. I love this article, Codie, as I am also planning on going into higher education in student affairs! And Katey, I agree with you on the fact that women are very well represented in leadership positions in student affairs at CNU. I think that liberal arts schools tend to be considered more “feminine”, as tech schools and Ivy league schools seem to be more “masculine”. Because of that, I think that is part of the reason why CNU has such strong female representation in our student affairs sector. When looking at positions such as Hall Directors, in multiple schools I have noticed there is consistently more women. I believe that in areas such as residence life, it is more “female friendly” and tends to have more women in the leadership positions. When looking at the job descriptions of really everyone involved in residence life, there is really nothing that stands out as seeming more masculine or feminine, so it seems odd to me that there are, for the most part, more women in these positions. The only thing I could think of is that it involves housing and the well-being of students, which could relate to the gender stereotype of women tending to the house and taking care of kids? That could be a reach, but either way I think there should be more of a mix in student affairs, especially in residence life.

    Right now my hall director is the only male in the entire residence life department (not counting the RAs), and he says it is always a challenge being the only male in the department for a multitude of reasons. I really liked this article, though, Codie. It was nice to see what we are studying relate to something that I plan on pursuing as a career. And to answer your question, I believe that there is actually a labyrinth effect is seen in higher education with student affairs, but people perceive it as a glass ceiling due to the statistics of who is involved in higher education at certain types of colleges and universities.

  7. Higher education doesn’t have much representation from women, much like “high ranking” positions in the business world. I don’t know how we can start to change society and start to move away from essentializing and labeling based on gender. It is so hard to change the perceptions and stereotypes that have been built up throughout history. We have to make it so some women feel like they have the choice to work and have institutions in place that enable and support a lifestyle in which a woman can have a high ranking leadership place in both education and business. In addition we need to work to change the feelings of guilt that can be placed on women who choose work and still want to have a family. It seems like such a novel idea on the surface, but this means changing a history of beliefs and deeply rooted gender roles. This is something I want to see change in my lifetime.

  8. This article makes me wonder about careers in education in general. Is there an underrepresentation of women in higher education because they don’t want to be or because they are unable to be? I know a lot of my friends that wish to pursue a career in education choose to teach the elementary school aged children. I would be curious to know which it is. I think that with the opportunities available in this day and age that a woman could make her way to a position if she wanted just like a man.

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