College Presidents' Cabinets Still Far From Gender Parity

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.

April 15, 2020
 
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A new report finds women and minority administrators are paid less than others in college administration.

While the number of women and minority administrators is climbing, they still face significant pay and seniority disparities, especially within executive leadership roles, a new report shows.

The report, based on a survey of 1,160 institutions conducted by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, takes a look at the hiring pipelines for three key administrative positions: presidents and CEOs, provosts and chief academic officers, and chief human resources officers.

Nearly two-thirds of presidents and CEOs were hired from an outside higher education institution, while the remaining third were promoted from within a college, the report found. A quarter of presidents and CEOs held the same title prior to their current position, 20 percent were formerly provosts and 13 percent were deans.

Women's representation in college administrations is growing. More than half of administrators are women, according to the report. But they remain underrepresented at the top of the organizational chart -- they hold less than 40 percent of executive leadership roles.

“If you look at administrators as a whole, it really does look like women have closed the leadership gap,” said Jackie Bichsel, director of research at CUPA-HR. “But if you look at the specific positions they occupy, they occupy the lowest-paid administrative positions and the least-senior administrative positions.”

The seniority gap is greater for people of color. More than 80 percent of administrators are white, according to the report, and people of color make up only 13 percent of top executive officers. While the number of minority administrators increased over the past year, the number of minority executive officers remained flat.

Rod McDavis, managing principal at AGB Search, expects this to change. He pointed to the growing number of women and people of color in doctorate programs and faculty roles.

"Those tend to be the grounds [from] which we select our future leaders in higher education," he said.

McDavis also noted a 2017 study by the American Council on Education that showed 54 percent of college presidents planned to leave their posts within five years. With two years of potential departures left, McDavis thinks incoming college leaders will be more diverse.

“We have a couple more years before we see a significant changing of the guard at the presidential level,” he said. “I am confident that those positions will be taken by women and people of color as we go forward.”

Pay disparities remain. Women are paid less than men in nearly all administrative positions, as are people of color.

"That pay gap is as bad for administrators as it is in non-higher ed sectors, and I just think that's a crime, really," Bichsel said. "Women will not be hired in top administrative positions unless they're valued for their leadership, and being paid 83 cents to 89 cents on the dollar that white men are paid -- that's not being valued for your leadership."

The novel coronavirus outbreak presents many challenges to higher education, and Bichsel acknowledged that the positive trends identified in the report may be impacted by a potential recession.

“If history tells us anything, it’s that these pay gaps are just going to get worse, and that representation is going to get worse,” Bichsel said. “What we know from previous research is that when there’s a recession … women and minorities are slammed the hardest. They’re even less likely to get a new job, they’re less likely to get promoted and they’re less likely to get raises.”

McDavis disagreed.

“I don’t think we’re going to go backwards on our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education,” he said.

Bichsel encouraged higher education institutions to see women leaders as an advantage.

“If you take a look at women leaders in various countries, they’ve been the most proactive in dealing with this crisis and reducing its toll, so you would hope that other businesses and higher education would take a lesson from that,” she said.

Above all, commitments to diverse hiring and inclusion should not be swept aside during crisis management, she said.

“They should keep their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion front of mind,” Bichsel said. “Use [the outbreak] as an opportunity to expand on those commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion instead of making them the casualties of what is sure to be one of the worst recessions that higher ed’s ever seen.”

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