Despite Recent Appointment, Progress for Women Still Slow
A new report reveals that Dr. Shawtel Landry, recently appointed president of the American College of Education, is one of the fortunate few when it comes to progress for women. Fewer than a third of college presidents are women – and fewer than 20% are racial minorities, according to the American College President Study 2017.
Landry tells GoodCall® that balance is important at every level in a higher ed institution or any other type of business, but she believes it is especially important in the positions at the top. “So much of that person’s approach is based on their personal experience, and that can sometimes mean the person in leadership doesn’t have life experience or personal perspective that’s representative of the people they manage.”
Women earn more than half of all bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees. Also, they now make up half of all law school attendees. So there has been some progress for women – just not at the top. “Education certainly skews female, and in that sense, it is important to make sure women have a seat at the table in the highest levels of administration so they’re empowered to speak to a woman’s experience at all levels of education, from the classroom to the boardroom,” Landry says.
But she warns that it’s also important to appoint people with the necessary skills. Although she’s the college’s first woman’s president, Landry says, “ACE is predominately staffed by women at every department of the college, but we’re also very focused on skills-based hiring so we have the right expertise to get us where we want to go.”
Landry also believes that the quest for balance doesn’t mean that men should be pushed out of the picture. “We also have to watch that we don’t tip the scale so far that we’re losing out on the perspective of our male colleagues either, and that becomes a difficult balance to achieve” she says.
Regarding her plans for ACE, Landry says, “We’ve recently launched new programs targeting educational business administration and healthcare administration, we’re preparing to launch a new mobile app, and we’ll have a new website launching sometime in Q4 that we hope will be a go-to resource for educators.”
That’s good news, considering there’s a shortage of teachers, and it’s projected to get much worse. “We’ve significantly increased our financial investment this year to potentially impact more than 178,000 educators and nearly 5.4 million students across the country, so we’ll have some sponsorships and on-site events with those partners early this fall that we’re really looking forward to,” Landry says.
Barriers to progress for women
Christie Garton, founder of the 1,000 Dreams Fund, believes Landry’s accomplishment marks significant progress for women. “Sexism in the educational system is a complex and deep-rooted problem, but we can also look at it from a broader perspective: people hire in their own image.”
Garton’s assertion is supported by a variety of studies that reveal men tend to hire other men. “So, when you have entire executive boards of similar-looking men, nobody is surprised when they continually choose to put their faith in people who look and act much like them.” Some organizations acknowledge the potential for unconscious bias and are taking steps to reduce it. For example, Holberton School of Software Engineering uses an automated admissions process that has resulted in more women enrollees.
Women leaders are also held to a different standard. “When a woman does snag a coveted leadership position, as Dr. Landry has, there’s a certain level of responsibility that just isn’t demanded of men,” Garton explains. “We expect our female leaders to appoint more women beneath them, pulling them up among the ranks — and they should.” But she says men who are in leadership positions should be doing the same thing.
“At this time, most presidents and CEOs are male, and we shouldn’t smother them with praise whenever they select women to lead their companies, invest in female-led companies, or endorse female candidates for leadership positions,” Garton says.
To be clear, women are making advances at colleges and universities, but not at the highest levels. Kevin Miller, senior researcher at the American Association of University Women, tells GoodCall®, “CUPA-HR’s report on gender parity in higher education administration shows that women’s representation in university administration is increasing over time.” However, progress for women primarily has meant appointments as department heads, administrative officers and assistant deans – although the number of assistant deans has dipped in recent years.
“Women are the majority in lower-level administrative positions, and are approaching equity in mid-level positions, but at the top – university presidents or equivalent – they have only reached a representation of about 30%.”
Education is not alone
Miller says this lack of progress for women is consistent across sectors and industries. “AAUW’s report Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership lays out a lot of these facts, and as the report’s title suggests, the problem lies in at least two principal places: barriers and bias.”
He explains, “Women still face systematic barriers to reaching leadership positions, including the continuing unequal distribution of domestic work and care work that mean that women are perceived as less serious about their careers and are more likely to take time out of the workforce, disrupting career ladders and making it less likely that they will receive promotions into leadership.”
However, Miller agrees with Garton’s assertion that the second issue is a bias (societal and/or psychological) against women in leadership. “AAUW research, as well as research from social scientists, have found that people have a tendency to connect men and masculine traits with leadership more than they do women or feminine traits.”
In fact, a study by Duke University researchers reveals that even women think men are more creative, and they link this type of “out of the box” creativity with such traditional male traits as being daring and decisive, but not traditional female traits, such as being supportive and cooperative.
“These biases can operate at the implicit or unconscious level: people’s ideas of leaders and leadership are biased against women, even when they are trying to be fair or egalitarian in their judgments,” Miller explains.