women in higher education

7 challenges women STILL face in higher ed-and how to fix them


Low numbers of women in higher education present challenges the industry must solve.

Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, a report published by the University of Denver’s Colorado Women’s College, suggests areas of future action to help close the leadership gap:

1. The governing board and the senior staff should annually review the institution’s commitment to diversity to evaluate how well it is working.

2. Identify, support, and advance women and women of color to become chief academic officers, provosts, and senior executives. These positions are stepping-stones to the presidency.

3. Look beyond sitting presidents in order to increase the pool of potential presidential selections. Because women are more likely to have followed a nontraditional career path, the best candidates may come from farther afield.

4. Review hiring and promotion policies to ensure they are fair and equitable and do not disproportionately encumber women. For example, if the majority of non-tenure track positions do not have equal standing in promotion, and women predominantly occupy these positions, then the university must critically evaluate its hiring process.

5. Evaluate the lack of tenure track hires and consider how promotion may be re-evaluated.

6. Insist that pools of candidates for faculty and senior leadership positions be diverse. Women cannot get hired if they are not in the pool of candidates.

7. Diversify search committees for presidential, senior leadership, and faculty positions. Often diversification on the committee helps ensure a search will be expanded to the broadest range of qualified candidates.

8. Make certain search committees have data on the status and benefits of women and women of color candidates.

9. If universities hire search firms, they should ensure the firms have a reputation for providing diverse pools of candidates.

10. Public institutions should pay particular attention to the declining number of women leaders. Among all the sectors, academia is the only one that has this trend. Typically, public organizations, entities, and offices have a better representation of women overall.

Laura Ascione