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Inclusive Leadership

Image of a black administrator in an engaged conversation with a small group of faculty


Inclusive Leadership

This is one of several short essays that was prepared as a set of resources during the original NSF ADVANCE grant period. The essay, written by Jessica Walker, introduces some of the key issues related to women in administrative leadership roles.

Academic leadership refers to titled positions in the university that are held by tenured/tenure-track faculty. Some academic leadership positions are nearly always held by tenured/tenure-track faculty (e.g., Department Heads, Deans, Provost) whereas others are sometimes held by staff and others by faculty (e.g., Associate [i.e., tenured/tenure-track faculty member] vs. Assistant [i.e., not tenured/tenure-track faculty] Deans can have the same responsibilities in different colleges).

Is there a gender gap in women in leadership positions/administration?

Yes. This is another example of the “leaky pipeline” for women in academia. Although women earn approximately 57% of bachelor’s degrees, 60% of masters degrees, and 51% of doctoral degrees in the United States, they hold only 41% of tenured/tenure-track positions (US Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, no date). The gap widens across ranks, with women comprising 50% of assistant professors, 43% of associate professors, and 30% of full professors in the United States. It is no wonder, then, that women only make up 26% of all higher education presidencies (ACE, 2012). Thus, the gender gap in women in leadership positions prevails.

At Texas A&M in Fall 2015*, academic leadership looks quite different from the national averages. The Provost is female, as are many Associate Provosts. Of the 11 colleges in the main College Station campus, six have female deans. Among department heads, 11 of 67 in main campus and 3 of 23 in the Health Sciences are female. Female department heads work in the colleges of engineering, geoscience, liberal arts, agriculture & life science, veterinary medicine & biomedical sciences, school of public health, Mays business school, pharmacy, and Baylor college of dentistry. This is a historic number of women serving at the Provost level, as deans, and as department heads at Texas A&M. However, it is important to recognize that the influx of women into academic leadership is a recent and not necessarily permanent change in the proportion of women serving in these roles. Continued attention to making sure that the university leadership looks like its constituencies is necessary.

What are some barriers preventing women from pursuing leadership/administration positions?

Despite significant gains, barriers restricting women’s access to leadership statuses in higher education administration after college persist. When analyzing senior leadership positions, it is evident a glass ceiling prevents women from progressing. A list of some obstacles, though not exhaustive, include:
  • Sexism/Gendered stereotypes of leaders (e.g., women are suppose to be passive and graceful)
  • Family obligations and the “second shift” (e.g., parenting, the physical tax of pregnant)
  • Lack of mentors
  • Lower rate of women in senior academic ranks
  • Excluded from networks (e.g., “good ole’ boy” network)
  • Double jeopardy (e.g., stereotypes of being a racial minority (i.e. African American) and a woman)
  • Different leadership styles and expectations (e.g., women utilize more of a transformational leadership style whereas men engage in more of a transactional leadership style)
  • Double standards (e.g., a woman who pursues a promotion is seen as aggressive whereas a man who pursues a promotion is seen as goal-oriented)
  • Being held to higher standards than men in business and government
  • Wage discrimination (i.e., women do not make the same salary as their male counterpart)

Strategies to Increase Women in Leadership Positions/Administration

Ensuring there is adequate mentoring for women is vital in encouraging women to pursue leadership positions. Mentors offer support and assist in helping the mentee understand and overcome upcoming obstacles. Positive and supportive mentors along with professional development programs help prepare women for potential leadership roles (Ballinger, 2010). One way Texas A&M University demonstrates its dedication towards providing mentors for women is through its Women’s Faculty Network (WFN).  WFN is an organization committed to providing formal programming and informal networking opportunities for female faculty. The organization reaches out to the entire A&M community and encourages them to participate in their programs.

Another strategy to increase women in leadership positions is the ADVANCE Administrative Fellows Program in which STEM faculty women faculty take on part-time administrative roles for a one year period, with the expectation that they will continue for an additional year (or longer) if both the host office and the Fellow agreed. During the fellowship, women have the opportunity to try out a leadership role with a well-defined portfolio of tasks and goals. Fellows also have an explicit mentoring plan with their host office as well as mentoring and networking opportunities with other Fellows and administrators from throughout the university.  Findings from a study of this program can be found on the ADVANCE Publications page.

Gender Gap in Salaries

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources’ (CUPA-HR’s) 2014-2015 Administrators in Higher Education Salary survey obtained data on salaries for 191 positions on 55,197 administrators at 1,227 institutions across the United States. According to the survey, fewer than 100 positions had more women than men, but this was more than in 2013. Additionally, only 16 positions had a median salary of females earning more than men; in spite of this number being twice as many as 2013’s report, when median salaries for single incumbent positions were compared, there was no reported change: there were 33 jobs that paid women more than men which was the same as last year’s report. Also, in the ten highest earning positions for women, only three of those positions earned more than men and all those positions were statistically more likely to be held by men. Furthermore, in the list of ten positions with more women than men, women were paid less than men in every single position. In positions in which women were more likely to a higher salary, those positions were typically male-dominated, with the exception of Associate Dean of Humanities. 

For more information, please consult these selected references. ‚Äč
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has collaborated with Project Implicit and Harvard University researchers to create a test that looks at the mental associations we make between gender and a variety of concepts, many of which affect our beliefs about women in positions of leadership. AAUW's Implicit Association Test site allows you to take a test and see the results of their study.