Women

Women job candidates in philosophy appalled by the "smoker"

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Some philosophers wonder why a key part of the hiring process in their discipline is an event that sounds like fraternity rush.

Women in leadership in academe still face challenges in structures, systems and mind-sets (opinion)

Women have made great gains in higher education and are now earning more degrees than men. In the 2016-17 academic year, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees were conferred to women, and according to the Pew Research Foundation, women now compose half of the college-educated workforce.

While acknowledging gains made in numbers of women, it is equally significant to address the challenges women continue to confront: women hold the least senior administrative positions and are the lowest paid among higher ed administrators. The picture is starker for women of color: in 2016, only 14 percent of higher ed administrators -- men and women -- were racial or ethnic minorities. Women, and this is especially the case for those of color, are also underrepresented in tenured and full professorships, which in turn limits opportunities to advance into formal leadership positions at colleges and universities. Yet we know, from research and our own academic experience, that qualified and ambitious women are definitely not in short supply.

Often described in the business sector as a glass ceiling -- the symbolic obstacle women hit at midmanagement -- barriers to women’s advancement could, in the context of academe, also be thought of as a labyrinth. Women are not simply denied top leadership opportunities at the culmination of a long career, but rather such opportunities seem to disappear at various points along their trajectories. And even when women attain leadership positions, we face challenges embedded within institutional structures and systems -- and perhaps most important, mind-sets -- that require transformative change.

Compounding women’s own difficulties as leaders in higher education is the reality that we are also serving as models for our students. Among our general student populations and especially our growing adult learner populations are increasing numbers of established women professionals who are returning for career advancement or self-development. These women often must balance the responsibilities of life with their education in ways that were perhaps not the case with students we may have seen in the past. If those of us educating such women are ourselves struggling with our own advancement, what example are we setting? Students -- whether traditional or nontraditional and across racial and ethnic backgrounds -- lack Black, Indigenous and people of color role models, especially women of color, in positions of power in higher education.

Our Context

It is rare that women leaders across different parts of the higher education sector get a chance to sit down and share their experiences with each other. That is probably not the result of the differences across our delivery of academic programs or a reluctance to talk to one another, but more that of a time famine, a term that came into being in 1999 to describe the universal feeling of having too much to do but not enough time to do it.

The two of us were fortunate, however, to be selected as members of the 2020 HERS (Higher Education Resource Services) Leadership Institute cohort, and, in the course of our time together with other women leaders, we discussed our experiences in academic leadership positions at some length. With the increasing diversity of higher education and the corollary needs and expectations that accompany it, such triangulation is not only rare but important. We found that despite serving in different leadership positions at different higher education institutions, with different disciplines and personal backgrounds, our experiences navigating leadership within academe have been remarkably similar in certain ways.

What we share is a drive to describe a phenomenon we have identified and are currently examining: the persistence of systemic obstacles to women’s (especially women of color) leadership advancement in higher education that results in a loss of talent to institutions. We have identified four interconnected imperatives why academe must remove these obstacles.

The ethical and antiracist imperative. Achieving gender parity in leadership is, first and perhaps most important, a matter of fairness. When women are excluded from top leadership positions, they are denied the agency to make a difference in their workplaces and societies. Leaders enjoy power, high status and privilege, and leadership in one area opens doors to other opportunities, which further amplify the perks of leadership.

Unfortunately, however, stereotypes and biases present subtle yet significant obstacles for women, and particularly for women of color. In addition, the structure of higher education and the culture of the workplace deter women from being productive and being heard. For example, women of color are often viewed, and used, as token representatives. Successful ideas and programs that they develop and direct may be appropriated by and credited to men and sometimes white women as well. Or ideas and programs that women initiate may be perceived as “soft” responses and dismissed.

The business imperative. As we strive to create workplaces that are productive, respectful, collegial and inclusive, we should remember that having diverse women in leadership positions can be beneficial to the bottom line. Data show that companies shifting from a corporate structure composed of no women to 30 percent women are associated with a 15 percent increase in profitability. Conversely, companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29 percent less likely to achieve above-average profitability.

The higher education imperative. Gender intersects with race in higher education: 86 percent of administrators are white, while only 7 percent are Black, 2 percent Asian and 3 percent Latinx. Less than a third of college or university presidents have been women, and the majority of them have been white women. Not surprisingly, among faculty members, white men make up the largest numbers of people in senior positions, and in recent years, white women have made significantly more gains than women of color.

As the 40 essays in the anthology Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia underscore, women of color persistently must deal with suspicion and questions about their competency based not on their accomplishments and potential but rather on their motives as well as how other people perceive their identities. Bernice Sandler several decades ago identified a chilly climate that virtually all women in academe experience, and for women of color, it is especially relevant today and becomes even colder at the top.

The few women in administrative leadership positions may not fit neatly into male styles and cliques, and they may become more isolated and yet increasingly visible for scrutiny. People often judge their actions and words from a white, privileged lens. Solo status -- being the only representative of a social category in an otherwise homogenous group -- exacerbates effects of such stereotyping and isolation, which can negatively impact how such women are evaluated.

The student imperative. Women may relate their own challenges to those other people now coming through the academic career pipeline are experiencing and may serve as mentors to faculty and students. They contribute to diversifying experiences, bringing to the center experiences of those who are marginalized and excluded -- both faculty and students.

With women of color leaders, students are exposed to perspectives beyond those of the dominant majority, particularly as the demographics of the student population are projected to change (toward a multiracial category) over the next few years. Additionally, it has a profound effect for women of color faculty as their abilities and knowledge are incorporated and integrated into the enterprise of higher education. As we have experienced, being a woman or women of color in a leadership position, if accompanied by support and a level of power, may convey a sense of possibilities for others.

A New Approach to Women’s Leadership

Perhaps the most crucial element that has to change on our campuses to respond to these imperatives is a change in perspective or mind-set. We have each experienced significant support at different points in our trajectories, in our own careers and those of others we are familiar with. But we have also noticed ways those in upper administration and colleagues at all levels interpret women of color’s leadership at a particular moment: as angry, emotional, hysterical, reactive, assertive and ambitious -- usually in connection to particular proposals and ideas associated with gender and diversity more broadly.

Conversely, when women leaders receive support and encouragement, too often it is accompanied by praise that refers to women as passionate, nurturing, warm, enthusiastic, articulate and exotic. While well intentioned, this sort of support and encouragement can, in effect, undermine women leaders’ intentional, goal-driven and research-based strategies and efforts and power. Given the intersecting identities and the various roles each person embodies, we cannot underestimate the damage of this approach to women of color’s success and well-being.

Our own experiences of being stereotyped and tokenized and implicitly (and at times explicitly) having our leadership and ideas attributed to supposedly innate gendered and oftentimes racialized attributes are part of a larger trend. We don’t have to look further than recent media coverage of the six women presidential candidates to see just how prevalent and normative undermining women’s leadership has become. For the first time in the country’s history, we had six women running for president, and they were commonly depicted as “the Meanie, the Lightweight, the Crazies, and the Angry, Dissembling Elitists,” as columnist and author Rebecca Traister wrote.

It is time we do more to support and recognize women leaders as intentional, strategic, intelligent, deliberate, goal-driven, focused, accomplished, successful, ambitious and visionary. Let’s rethink how we approach women’s leadership. Rather than well-intentioned comments and perspectives that may in practice be dismissive, patronizing, sexist and racist, and provide little power and resources, we recommend starting with a few questions to approach women’s leadership in all of its heterogeneity across our institutions.

Some of those questions include: How are women represented in senior leadership positions? How are Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous women included or excluded in these forms of leadership and decision making? How are queer identities included or excluded? How is the labor of women leaders, and women of color more specifically, being recognized and compensated? How can women of color leaders be considered capable of moving up the ranks and appointed to positions of formal power and authority? How is leadership being supported through the provision of resources to bring about sustainable change? What forms of mentorship are available or being developed to support women as leaders?

We would still have a long way to go, but that would at least be a start.

M. Cristina Alcalde is Marie Rich Endowed Professor in Gender and Women’s Studies and associate dean of inclusion and internationalization in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky. Mangala Subramaniam is a full professor in sociology and the Butler Chair and director of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence at Purdue University. They co-edit the Navigating Careers in Higher Education book series (Purdue University Press).

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Colleges shouldn't overlook the importance of father-daughter relationships (opinion)

Although women now earn more undergraduate degrees and more graduate degrees than men, all is not well with them. Women undergraduates are just as likely as men to binge drink and use recreational drugs. And they are more likely to have anxiety disorders and to be clinically depressed and suicidal.

After 46 years of college teaching, I still give colleges an F on the “F” factor -- a factor that plays a major role in female students’ well-being: fathers. As documented in my research over the past 30 years, daughters who have strong, supportive relationships with their fathers generally earn better grades, have higher college graduation rates and enter more STEM professions. These daughters are also more emotionally resilient and self-confident and less likely to have eating and anxiety disorders or to be clinically depressed or suicidal. They are less apt to binge drink, have sex with multiple partners or with men they hardly know, be coerced into having sex, or end up with an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. In short, their fathers give them advantages that go far beyond their grades.

Moreover, well-fathered women reap these benefits regardless of their family’s income. It is worth noting that students from wealthier families do not have better relationships with their parents than students from less well-off families. For example, in a series of studies, young adults from relatively affluent families with incomes between $110,000 and $150,000 were not closer to their parents. And they, in fact, had more problems related to drug and alcohol use, self-inflicted cuts and burns, anxiety disorders, and depression than their counterparts from middle-income families.

Then, too, college-educated parents are the most likely to coddle their children -- especially their daughters -- which undermines their emotional resilience and self-reliance and leads to more anxiety and depression. Too many of these children become the fragile “snowflake” students who melt too easily under stress and rely too often on their parents or college personnel to solve their problems for them. For decades, however, the research has shown that fathers are less likely than mothers to be overly protective “helicopter” parents who go overboard trying to make life’s path as stress-free as possible for children. More often than not, it is Mom who goes too far in preparing the road for the child while Dad is trying to prepare the child for the road.

So how can colleges and universities improve their grades on the “F” factor? First, the curriculum needs to be more inclusive and less biased against fathers. For example, social science textbooks and academic journals devote far more attention to mothers than to fathers. A less sexist, more balanced curriculum would help dispel myths that work against strong father-daughter bonds.

For example, professors can present the research showing that men are not less empathic, less communicative and less cooperative than women and that most married dads are not slackers who shirk their childcare responsibilities. In the same way that many professors have become more sensitized to racist or homophobic material and damaging stereotypes, they can become more sensitized to sexism against fathers.

Many colleges now offer courses specifically aimed at formerly overlooked groups -- for instance, mothers and daughters, the LGBTQ community or African Americans. But to my knowledge, I am the only professor in the country who has ever offered a course on father-daughter relationships. Although I have been teaching my Fathers and Daughters course for 22 years and making this known in my academic writing, only one other professor ever contacted me about the course. Even after an op-ed about my course, written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathleen Parker, appeared in more than 400 newspapers, professors responded with a resounding silence.

Institutions shouldn’t stereotype fathers in other ways, either: in freshmen orientation material and meetings for parents, for instance, they should be careful not to direct the financial information largely or only to them.

Second, colleges can create more events specifically for fathers and can be more sensitive to fathers’ needs. It is not unusual for institutions to provide orientation events for certain groups of parents who might otherwise feel overlooked, such as a special session for parents of first-generation college students. Those same approaches can be employed to create more father-friendly, father-focused events.

For example, I have offered seminars during freshmen orientation just for fathers with daughters. Each year, nearly 100 fathers register for my seminar, filling the lecture hall to capacity (with a wait list). I’ve instructed the dads beforehand to have their daughters come to pick them up afterward and then to spend the next 30 minutes alone with each other -- without mothers, stepmothers or siblings. The dads have felt honored that a faculty member is acknowledging them as key players in their daughters’ lives. And contrary to some of society’s sexist assumptions about men, most of the fathers have been self-disclosing, candid and empathic when asking questions about how to help their daughter during her college years -- not just academically, but emotionally.

The dads have been stunned by the research I present showing that fathers have as much or more impact than mothers do on their young adult daughters. They’ve felt affirmed and encouraged -- not dismissed, demeaned or disenfranchised. Even a year or two after the seminars, fathers have emailed me for advice or to thank me. Others have written to say the seminar was a catalyst for creating a more open, more mature, less superficial relationship with their daughter.

Third, college counselors can be more attuned to father-daughter relationships. Counselors can teach female students the four-step method I developed for helping young adult women resolve problems with their fathers -- the kinds of problems that increase their stress and depression in college. Counselors can also consider possible biases they may have against dads. For example, do they assume that fathers are less empathic or less willing to discuss personal matters than mothers? Keep in mind that it is well documented that even the most well-meaning mental health professionals can be inadvertently biased against fathers.

Fourth, colleges can make the faculty more aware of how their female students’ relationships with their fathers affect their academic performance and mental health. In the same ways that higher education institutions educate and sensitize faculty members to issues related to students’ race or sexual orientation or religion, they can help to educate and sensitize them on the topic of fathers.

Supporting the “father factor” in these ways can give women students' mental health a much-needed boost. And it can also offer professors and staff members another valuable resource to help deal with the challenges that lie ahead for themselves and their students in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Linda Nielsen is a professor in the education department at Wake Forest University. She is a nationally recognized expert on father-daughter relationships.

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Pay and seniority gaps persist for women and minority administrators in higher education

Women and minority administrators are paid less than others and disproportionately occupy lower-level roles, a new report finds. Experts are divided over whether the current pandemic will close the gaps or throw them open wider.

Author discusses his new book, 'The Rise of Women in Higher Education'

Author discusses theories about the progress made by women and the factors that hold them back.

Iceland's universities worry about the small numbers of male students they attract

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Sixty-four percent of students are women, the highest percentage of any European nation.

Editors discuss their new book on intersectionality in higher education

Editors discuss new volume of essays on the ways higher education is changing because of issues of race, gender and sexuality -- and how they think higher ed needs to change even more.

Male backlash blamed for failure of effort in France to hire more female academics

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Requiring that at least 40 percent of search committee members be female was followed by a drop in hiring of women, study found.

Tulane agreement with OCR leads to debate over gender bias

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University agrees to review whether any programs or scholarships discriminate illegally against men, but legal experts say programs reserved for women are legal.

New study shows college selectivity impacts women’s careers, home lives

Attending a more selective college may be linked to increased odds of working, decreased odds of marriage for women, but not men, study suggests.

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