Posted by: caroladougherty | March 17, 2015

The Lack of Female College Presidents

I follow the Chronicle of Higher Education on social media and found an article posted today which is very relevant for our class.  The Chronicle is a news source for current events happening on college campuses across the United States and provides information on subjects of controversy in the field of Higher Education to keep those in the field updated.

I was pleased to see an article addressing the concern of the lack of women in the top leadership roles in Higher Education in the nation overall.

The article says that “Only One in Four College Presidents are Women” and that the statistic has not changed in the last decade.  It points out that the Boards of Trustees appointing the Presidents of colleges and universities tend to be older and more traditional leaders who may be influenced by beliefs in the traditional gender stereotypes.  We need a cultural shift in the field of Higher Education to make women more welcome and to be more accepting of the work/family balance.  The article points out that a huge roadblock for women facing Presidency is that they choose not to seek the role because of such a large time commitment and time away from their friends and family.  The points made by the article reflect some of the discussions we have had in class about women opting out.

The article strongly argues that women are needed in top leadership positions in Higher Education because they bring a unique perspective to the team and they show incredible skills working with a diverse group of people to solve problems.  These feminine traits are critical skills that are ideal for the career of a University President.  The largest reason we need women is because a lack of female leaders in academia “sends the wrong message to undergraduates, 56 percent of whom are women.”  It is obvious that more women than men are attending and graduating from Universities so why aren’t they also leading those Universities?  What is keeping women from obtaining Presidency positions in Higher Education? And how could this be a problem for the future if it is not addressed?

“Despite Progress, Only 1 in 4 College Presidents are Women” by Audrey Williams June from The Chronicle of Higher Education


  1. Women are often assumed to be the sole caretakers of the household. Having to uphold this stereotype along with the negative connotations that are associated with women in high level leadership positions have ultimately lead towards women straying away from going after university president positions because its essentially like having two jobs that allow no time flexibility.Additionally, the lack of women’s presence in university president positions can be detrimental towards the gender equality movement. If women can’t break this cycle of not going after high level leadership positions, positive change towards the gender equality movement will never happen. It is the people who are in power who can make amends, therefore women need to gain the power in order to induce long-lasting change.

  2. I think, as Hannah has pointed out, that the pressure felt by women to be the caretaker in the home pushes these women towards not being put into these high positions of power, such as University Presidents. This idea of women as homemakers and caretakers I think not only influences women to not want to be in these positions due to the perceived sacrifice they have to make, but also it influences the Board of Directors. As Carol mentioned a large portion of the BoD is older and have more traditional views on gender roles than most twenty-thirty somethings do. This idea of specified gender roles then leads to the conclusion that women cannot possibly run a University and be a good caring wife and mother. Conclusions such as these are detrimental to women leaders as they underestimate their abilities and boxes them into specific lower level roles where it would be easier for women to balance both of these roles. The limiting of potential women leaders is a crippling force to not only our system of higher education, but also to the nation as a whole as these strong intelligent women are not being given the ability to fully impact an organization or the people within it. The lack of women in roles as University Presidents can lead to voids in the educational structure of institutions as women leaders can bring different perspectives as well as work to implement policies that can work to the betterment of all students. Having women running Universities also would serve as role models for women on campuses to look up to as well as the President could serve as a mentor to both male and female students. I think that as time progresses and BoDs are made up from younger generations with more progressive ideologies we will see more and more women serving as University Presidents, as well as an increase of the educational experiences at some Universities.

  3. As we saw when Kate Sheridan spoke to our class, coming from a university with almost all women leaders had a lot to do with the leader she is today. She had these strong, notable women to look up to and influenced her decision when she was taking the position as Associate Director of PLP. I think not having women as presidents shows some men and women that a woman could not become president. Not having more a women in power will continue to shows society that females are not capable of leading as president. Even at CNU graduation, when seniors are walking across the stage, mostly men are standing there shaking graduates hands, and Rosemary is waiting on the lawn for a hug. Almost all of our PLP speakers are men. Women are not being shown in leadership positions. This is going to continue to be a problem if we never see women up front. This year’s graduation commencement speech will be given by a woman, Anne Holton. That’s a win. I hope to see more female speakers next year. I don’t have a solution, but I do think we can make slow progress by having more women represented up front for people to see. This is especially important at universities where the next generation is being educated on how to successfully run society.

  4. If we look at “The Opt-Out Revolution” article, it could be that women are not embracing leading roles at universities because the very women that are qualified for these positions are “opting out.” They are successful women marrying successful husbands so once they become mothers they do not need to continue working because their husbands make enough money for the household. In this case, a woman could “opt out” from making her way to the university presidency because of the demanding work schedule, but I do not think that would be the case. As a university president I would imagine you have a lot of free reign to make your own schedule. A more viable reason, as the article mentions and one that we have read about before, is that those who are doing the hiring believe in gender stereotypes for leadership. Therefore, they will automatically choose the man in the group of prospective employees because it is what they know; they do not want to take a risk. They are intimidated and confused by the idea of women holding higher positions so they choose to ignore women applying for these positions so that the ‘old order’ will continue and nothing will be disturbed.
    To reiterate the article, this could be a problem for the future because I believe that what you see can often be what you become. If undergraduate/graduate students who are women do not see older women as their deans and president, they will begin to discount the work they are doing and doubt the bright futures that lay ahead of them. Women students need mentors and if they do not have women in higher education positions they will not have anyone to learn from and admire.

  5. Similar to comments posted above, I think that more women are not serving in higher education leadership roles, such as college and university presidents, because women who do have families and careers feel the pressure to find the “perfect” balance between the two. There is an unspoken, though sometimes vocalized pressure, for women to have to be able to maintain the ability to have top-notch careers and picture-perfect family lives as well. I personally think that I have benefited in the leadership roles that I have been a part of due to the female role models that have come before me. Until there are even more women who break past the barrier of higher education, situating themselves in high leadership positions, women will continue to stay at the same levels of leadership that they are already at.

  6. I agree with some of my fellow peers when stating that a reason why you don’t see many women at the higher educational leadership roles is because the are pressured into being their for their family and not just dedicating themselves to the job. Looking back through my educational career I do see a trend, throughout public school I had all male principle and a majority of my vice principle were male. The biggest being in high school the only female in the front office was the secretaries, so not only is a problem at the college leave but it could be a problem even high school. Even with the all male present in the leadership role within in education hasn’t prevented me from thinking that I will not become a principle at a high school because that is my dream and I am planning on succeeding.

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