New Resources Help Higher Ed Sector Diversify the Presidency
July 24, 2023

​A new infographic and brief focusing on the gender disparities in the college presidency, particularly women of color, highlight the continued need for higher education to examine women’s educational and professional pathways and their experiences in efforts to diversify the presidency.

ACE’s 2023 American College President Study (ACPS) found that the population of current college and university presidents is still mostly older, male, and White. Despite some efforts within the sector to diversify its ranks, the percentage of women holding the top job at colleges and universities stands at 33 percent, up about 10 percentage points from 2006. Men outnumber women two to one (67 percent) while women presidents were more likely than men to come from a faculty or academic background.

The ACPS also found presidents of color accounted for a little over one out of four presidents, and women of color accounted for a little more than one out of every 10 presidents.

While more women of color are in fact ascending to the presidency than ever before—there are still serious barriers in place that affect potential candidates, as described in a new brief published by ACE, “The Invisible Checklist: Ascension Implications for Women of Color Leaders,” by Ashley Gray.

The brief features accounts from five women who have been finalists and semifinalists for presidential roles across institutional types, who shared stories of having to navigate an “invisible checklist” to overcome barriers at the intersection of racism and sexism.

Gray offered takeaways and recommendations for higher education leaders, associations, search firms, and boards that can change their practices to better address the systemic issues impacting women of color leaders who are increasingly discouraged by the search process. Some of those recommendations include:

  • Answer the call for greater transparency. This includes greater candor from search agencies and clarity from boards of trustees about what they want in a candidate, both in personal and professional experience.
  • Institutions should be careful to vet search agencies’ commitments to equity in policy and practice prior to hiring.
  • Campus search committees and search agencies should also consider ways to recognize presidential leadership capacity beyond the traditional pathways to the presidency, as many women of color on the potential path to leadership are impacted by gatekeeping in the ranks of faculty.
  • Institutions should reimagine the presidential interview process through search committee training, intentional protocol development, and interview planning.
  • Institutions and search agencies should also consider when and how to share names publicly, as it may impact candidates—particularly women of color—negatively after a failed search.
  • Search agencies, boards, and professional associations should undergo bias training with specific techniques for awareness and disruption of problematic practice.

Report: The American College President: 2023 Edition
Infographic: Women in the College Presidency