Although women now earn the majority of all college degrees, they have made surprisingly little progress when it comes to gaining the top job at colleges and universities, moving the needle just three percentage points since 2006. As of 2011, only 26 percent of college and university presidencies were occupied by women.
These difficult challenges facing women today and the need to overcome them were among the key takeaways during ACE’s recent Moving the Needle: Advancing Women in Higher Education Leadership roundtable. Moving the Needle is a collaborative, multi-association initiative that seeks to increase the number of women in higher education senior leadership positions through programs, research and resources. The initiative is centered on the vision of having half of the chief executives at higher education institutions be women by 2030. Four goals were established in 2014 to advance the initiative:
- Generate a national sense of urgency elevating the need for advancing women in higher education leadership positions.
- Encourage governing boards and other higher education institutional decision- and policy-making bodies to consider recommended practices for recruiting and hiring women to chief executive offices.
- Achieve women’s advancement to mid-level and senior-level positions in higher education administration by building capacities in women and in institutions.
- Suggest recommended practices and models and recognize success in advancing women in higher education.
“There has got to be a way to elevate all women, no matter the background, to the decision-making table,” said Lynn Gangone, ACE vice president for leadership programs. Following a rousing introduction and call to action for the day’s meeting, as a longtime member of ACE’s Women’s Network Gangone stressed that a greater sense of urgency for expanding the pipeline of women leaders is critical to the overall future of American higher education.
The morning began with a panel discussing Models of Progress, with panelist Kathie Andrade, head of individual advisory services at TIAA-CREF, detailing the successes and challenges she overcame while leading organizational change. She stressed the importance of setting targets and goals for diversity and inclusion at both the organizational and individual level. Without goals and commitment at both levels, Andrade noted, progress will be difficult to achieve.
Moderated by Madlyn Hanes, Penn State’s vice president for Commonwealth Campuses and recent Donna Shavlik Award winner, another panel merged several groups to discuss how collaboration among like-minded organizations can and will make the difference in moving the needle. The panelists, including representatives from ACE, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and The Spellman & Johnson Group, all discussed the different and complex ways in which their organizations are working to help achieve parity for women in higher education. The panelists all stressed the need to change the rhetoric surrounding women in leadership, and laid out challenges and opportunities they foresee in the coming years.
The day concluded with breakout sessions and updates from the Goal Groups established at the last convening about the information that has been gathered to date, how the groups have approached their respective goal and their plans moving forward. A work plan to leverage collective efforts to cast a wider net of awareness was also established.