Where Are All the Women College Presidents?


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired April 26, 2023

Recorded live at the American Council on Education’s recent Annual Meeting, this is the first of two episodes unpacking results from the American College President Study (ACPS) and The American College President: 2023 Edition. Pamela Eddy and Kenya Ayers-Palmore discuss the different pathways men and women take to the college presidency and what the higher education community can do to promote more women campus leaders. Eddy is associate provost for faculty affairs and development and professor of higher education at William & Mary, and Ayers-Palmore is president of Tarrant County College District Northeast Campus. Next up: “Diversifying the College Presidency Is Essential.”

The dotEDU live podcast recordings and the American College President Study are generously supported by the TIAA Institute.

Hosts and Guests
Kenya Ayers-Palmore - President, Tarrant County College Northeast  -
Kenya Ayers-Palmore
President, Tarrant County College Northeast
Pamela Eddy - Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Development and Professor, Higher Education, William & Mary  -
Pamela Eddy
Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Development and Professor, Higher Education, William & Mary

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education.

Audience: Woo!

Jon Fansmith: And that sound you hear is the live audience we are in front of here at ACE2023 in Washington, DC as we record our first ever live dotEDU podcast. So, welcome everyone. Thank you so much for joining us. You can cheer again.

Audience: Woo!

Jon Fansmith: We're going to constantly prompt our audience to cheer for us. We are joined, well, I am joined, as always, by my illustrious co-host, Sarah Spreitzer.

Sarah Spreitzer: Not always. I'll just say-

Jon Fansmith: Almost always.

Sarah Spreitzer: I think I'm the lucky co-host because I got to do this with you because Mushtaq is obviously very busy doing all of his panels about the Carnegie Classification, but we miss him very much.

Jon Fansmith: No, we don't miss Mushtaq. He's standing in the back of the room early. For those of you who can only listen, he is ditching us entirely and sitting there laughing at us as he does it. So, Sarah, how are you doing today?

Sarah Spreitzer: Good, good. I can't believe we're only like five hours into the Annual Meeting. Six hours? I don't know. Time seems to have just stopped.

Jon Fansmith: Flies by.

Sarah Spreitzer: But, it's great to see everybody in person, post-Covid. Coming back to in-person meetings has been really wonderful.

Jon Fansmith: It has. It's been great seeing people. And I think I especially love seeing the excitement of different members of ACE and other folks around a huge range of programming. That's been pretty exciting, pretty captivating. So. Great to do this. And, again, great to try this out and have people in the room. Whole different energy to doing this with people around, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, yeah. Well, and we're very lucky because this episode of the dotEDU podcast is going to focus on data from the recently released report, The American College President: 2023 Edition. We're going to unpack findings related to gender and women's experiences in presidential leadership. The study was actually just released here at ACE2023.

Just a little background before we get into the discussion, ACE's American College President Study, or ACPS, is the most comprehensive, in-depth survey and report about the college presidency and pathways to higher education leadership. The survey has been conducted approximately every five years since 1986. And if you'd like to download a copy, if you're not actually here in person getting one of the nice shiny executive summaries, you can download the report at acenet.edu/acps. But, we are very blessed to be joined by two fabulous speakers. We have Kenya Ayers-Palmore, the president of Tarrant County College Northeast Campus, and we also have Pamela Eddy, associate provost for faculty affairs and development and professor of higher education at William & Mary. [Audience Applause]

Jon Fansmith: Good time to cheer.

Sarah Spreitzer: So, in the latest release of the ACPS, they found that men still outnumber women two-to-one in the presidency. The data also points to gendered experiences within the presidency, and gaps between men and women. Those gaps are even larger between men and women of color. So, to start with, Kenya and Pamela, can you tell us a little bit about your journey in higher ed?

Pamela Eddy: So, a long time ago...

Sarah Spreitzer: In galaxy far, far away,

Pamela Eddy: We have two minutes, so I'll give you the condensed version. When I first went to graduate school after college, I was going to be a faculty member. And I thought, this isn't going to take too long. And so, I had the fall in love, moved somewhere else, have three children, part of the story that came along with it. And, as a trailing spouse, what I found is I kept having to start over and over and over again. And one of the positions I had done was in a community college doing continuing ed, and I thought, all right, this will be great. The next move, I'll do my doctorate and then I'll go and become a community college president. End of story.

Except, I got into my program and realized I actually like research and I ended up being a faculty member for 20 years. And so what I did was train other people to be college presidents and had the good fortune to cross paths with Kenya when I was in Michigan working with the ACE Women's Network of higher ed leaders. And so trying to always have at the center my research is, "How do we look at equity? Gender equity, racial equity?" And so that's been a real strong line throughout my career so far.

Sarah Spreitzer: Thank you. Kenya?

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: So first of all, I'm so excited to be here. This is... I'm fangirling, so I'm going to try and just focus in this moment. It is such a joy, especially to share the stage with Pamela. As she mentioned, at a time in my life where I had a president in Michigan at Kettering University who said to me, "You should come and be our institutional representative on behalf of the ACE Women's Network in Michigan." I started down that path and eventually, as I did that, I became the president of the Michigan ACE Network and Pamela was on the board.

And so, we had a chance really to grow together for those in the room. We had really dark hair at that time, and I'll just share that. You look concerned. It's okay. I will share that what we really enjoyed about that time is that we really were grounded in a community of lots of women presidents. And the joy now is that I get to sit as a president. And so I'm excited about talking through this research with you.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's great, thank you. Thank you for sharing that. I think, Jon, you have the next question?

Jon Fansmith: I do. Yeah. So, one of the findings from the survey is that over half of presidents are considering stepping down from their current position in the next three to five years.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: Yes. Yes they are.

Jon Fansmith: For those listening, there's a little bit of a technical interruption, so apologies. What could this window of opportunity mean for increasing the representation of women in the presidency? And, maybe more importantly, how do we do it?

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: Okay, so there are a couple of things I would say. One is, as we think about... There's the work from the women's network about moving the needle and how we make a difference, I think the challenge is we have to have real distinct initiatives that help us get there. And it seems to me that we start a little late in the game. We start with people who are already on the path. And in my estimation, we have to start with people in terms of their awareness that there even is a pathway. So, I alluded earlier to the fact that I had a president who tapped me in an elevator and said, "Become a part of the Women's Network, represent our institution." I was... I'm not shy if you know me, but I am introverted. And so the thought of what does it mean to go represent my institution? I was in my twenties, what does that look like -- was a little intimidating.

But then, when it happened, I walked in a room and there was a woman by the name of Dr. Martha Tack from Alabama, and Martha said to me, "Hello my dear, one day you will be president of this network just like I am." We talk about belonging, it made me feel like someone saw me, someone saw potential in me, and that there was a place for me within the academy of opportunity and a pathway. But I come from... I always say, I'm a little black girl from Detroit, Michigan and the surrounding areas. I didn't know any college presidents. So it's hard to aspire to something you have not yet seen. And that happens for a lot of women as well. Do we see ourselves in that place or does someone identify that as even a potential opportunity? It's in the data as well that women even find out about a presidency so much later or tapped much later.

Pamela Eddy: And I think we often think of it as the woman's problem and that, "Okay, I have to be the one that is going to solve all of this." Or, "It's up to me to have the initiative," without looking at the structures of opportunities and who gets tapped matters. And so, if you're looking at the favored child syndrome, it may not always be a woman or a person of color if we're looking in the same old places. So instead of this, looking at it structurally.

There was a dissertation, I read a lot of dissertations that was done on the state of Maryland, wondering why was, in Maryland, so many of the college presidents women. And so Amy Martin, who did this dissertation, who is now at Michigan State, learned that it was because they addressed the structural issues. They said, we're going to pay attention to this. We are going to look at the pipeline. We're going to open up opportunities for women and people of color that are interested in this. And lo and behold, they are not like the ACE data that we're looking at nationally. You're going to see higher percentages of women presidents there. You're going to see higher percentages of leaders of color as well.

Now, some of the things they had going with them is that there were opportunities for trailing spouses or partners. So that, if you get to go and become the president, and you're in a rural community, there are not always opportunities for a partner. And so, what does that mean is we're looking at the larger infrastructure and structures to make these kinds of things to remove barriers? I think that's a piece we often miss. Because it's the women that are like, "Oh, you got to go and do this. You got to get this checklist." And if you have not done that, you're not going to be considered.

Sarah Spreitzer: Sure.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: So that speaks to this idea of progression and that there is one right path. Whenever we're gathered as women, I feel like I'm -- look at all the nodding -- I feel like I'm always in a conversation and I'm happy to have it as many times as we need to, but it's almost like giving women permission that whatever your path is, it's not only okay, it's right for you. And as long as you authentically walk it, there is a space for you to helm the right institution. And so, I feel like that kind of affirming isn't happening consistently.

I love what Pamela, I love what you said about that study. Now, as a Wolverine, I don't know about the Michigan State part, but I will offer this. Sometimes I'm a little concerned that when we have the conversations, it's not about bashing the men. That's not our aim. It's not about bashing the white men. It is, however, to say, we have a responsibility to be conscious of who we think about. We have a responsibility to say, "What kind of criteria do we put forward? What is a board looking for in a president?" And how to we... So, AGB does a great job of helping boards think about how they pursue candidates.

When I think, so I'm a community college president. Within the community college sector, we have something called the "community college president competencies." So that boards begin to understand what are the expectations at a dean level, at a vice president level or president level. And as you're looking for candidates, how do you know exactly what to look for that are very objective criteria. Because it's a human tendency to say... Because we're twins, Jon and I. That I'm going to replicate... Because this is who's in my social circle. It's not personal. It's not because I don't want Jon in my door. It's because I just don't know Jon. We heard Freeman Hrabowski talking about it, Dr. Hrabowski, today. So, I just think there's some things with intentionality that we have to put some more structure around. I'd love that example that you give.

Pamela Eddy: And I think the competency piece raises the issue... If you look in the survey data of what presidents say troubles them or was something that they didn't feel as skilled at, often we think we have to know everything when we come in. But, if you look at that list and think, "Well, these are the things and the demands that are going to come upon me, how can I get those experiences? How do I learn about fund development? How do I learn about finances? How do I learn about unions and negotiation?" And you can learn about them, often, in the scope of your work. But you can learn about fund development by running the United Way in your community. And so, trying to think, "I don't need to have all of this developed within just one narrow scope of my job or position, but I can acquire these competencies in a lot of different ways as well."

Sarah Spreitzer: And I love that you guys are talking about these various efforts to help move women towards the presidency. And at ACE we have the Moving the Needle program, and there are many other places that do those types of programs. Are you seeing a difference as these programs are being undertaken within institutions, within associations? And are our groups holding ourselves accountable for whether or not we're actually making a difference?

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: So I look around this room and there are search firm consultants. You guys want to know where they are, don't you? There are search firm consultants, I mean who are beautifully well-established. There are the people who are helping institutions make these decisions. To your point, the data shows us that we've made some progress, but we've not made sufficient progress. What that tells me is that we're doing good work, we're just not getting enough of it done, so we're not making the impact at scale that would truly make a difference so that more of the people who aspire to the positions can get through the door.

So when I think about... And I feel very fortunate, I've crossed sectors. So I've been at private, you're going to love this, Jon. I've been at a private, predominantly male institution, which was Kettering University in Michigan, mostly engineering and business. And then I was at a Catholic women's private institution, Trinity in DC. Then I've been at Research One University of Michigan. I'm at a comprehensive community college, so I've kind of, it's-

Jon Fansmith: You're the perfect ACE member, really.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: I love ACE, right?

Jon Fansmith: You encompass every sector. That's great.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: But I do, I love that because you get to see what's happening in the different sectors. And we tend to think of ourselves as really monolithic. It's not. It's only happening here. These great conversations are taking place across the sectors. What we've got to do is get to the point, which is why ACE is so important, where we're really framing up... This is a consistent conversation. We've got to tackle it across the board. Which means, what effort is working for your group? What effort is working for my group? How do we put in those best practices together and come up with some national interventions that really will make a difference?

Pamela Eddy: And I think it's the access also to national type of work is how do we bring that down? Because if, again, I have worked a lot on rural campuses... They're not coming. And to be able to even understand the scope of information that is available is difficult because they're wearing 10 hats. So, what are ways that we could translate some of that national dialogue down into different kind of grow-your-own programs and into regional networks? The more we could bring that to the ground is going to matter.

And so I think the work in Michigan that we did with the network there was phenomenal because you had representatives at institutions from across the state that came together. So they were having regional dialogues and they would meet in the middle of the state for one day. So most people could come for a day to have that as a convening. So as much as we can take that national information, what we know about leadership, and bring it down, that will make a tremendous stride, I think.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's really helpful.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: I still think it's got to go... So when I think about those networks, and they're great... As I bounce around the country, one of the things I've seen is there are other states -- ACE does a great job with the women's network -- there are other states doing really great work in that regard, but the women who come in are already on the path. I still want to get at the little girl. I don't know how many of you show up hands where when you were 9 or 10, you thought, "I want to be a college president." It's just not on your radar, right?

Jon Fansmith: For listeners, I don't think a single hand went up.

Sarah Spreitzer: Not a lot of hands.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: Thank you, Jon. No! So, how do we create the exposure early enough? So that's one piece. Then, when we talk about boards and presidents. So I agree with you. It's a "both-and." How also do we distill information? And I think Dr. Chessman, you and your team, phenomenal work with the survey. How do you distill, not just the findings, but then a set of recommendations? So, using the analysis from the findings to say, "We want to help you as you're doing searches in partnership with the board of search firms that work with you, here are 10 things that we really want search firms and boards to know so that you are being more inclusive in your processes with career and technical education across the country." Are there opportunities? Everybody in the K-12 system is teaching leadership. Leadership to what end? We give a very limited segment of what leadership is applied to and we have the opportunity to expand that as well.

Pamela Eddy: And if you look at the data from the survey that half the sitting presidents were faculty, trying to understand where are you going to sow those seeds? And so the challenge then also becomes is how do you diversify the faculty? Because that is one of the first gateways into the pipeline. And so, college presidents would be able to be served well by having different conversations with faculty, not on their first day maybe, but trying to expose them to different opportunities to lead on campus.

So as you look at mid-level leaders, department chairs are a great opportunity because that's typically the first administrative experience someone has. It's also the hardest job on campus because you're leading your peers who say, "You're not my boss. I'm not going to listen to you." And then you have a dean saying one thing. And so trying to navigate that, which is often a temporary position, unless they get drawn into saying, "Oh, I actually like this leadership stuff." And so, I think, college presidents looking at that internal pipeline with faculty could be one way we see some of that change as well.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: And there's some best practices there. I would offer institutions that, if they cannot host an ACE fellow or send someone out for a fellowship... I mean that doesn't get us at scale in the same way. Don't tell Ted Mitchell I said that. But-

Jon Fansmith: He might hear this.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: Oh, I'm in trouble. That was Pamela not me. No. But, the whole idea of... I worked, at one point, for Dr. Ken Ender when he was president at Harper College. One of the things he did was say, "What if I brought the same leaders that I know nationally to my campus, instead of trying to take 30 people from my campus to a national conference?" And he essentially... He's a fellow, as well. Class of 94, 95. And so he started bringing in national-level leaders, and he developed a program that didn't supplant. He still sent people to ACE, he sent people to Aspen. But it allowed people to sort of dip their toe in the water and he democratized it so that whether you were an administrative assistant or you were in... it didn't matter. We had people from facilities. But, one, people got to work together across the institution. And, two, people saw possibilities where they hadn't seen possibilities before. And we started growing the pipeline.

And then, Dr. Eddy, to your point... on my campus, one of the things I've been doing is investing in that mid-level leader. I created something called "ascending leaders" where I just spent time with that mid-level leader and starting to talk through some of the things and do some professional development around what I want to see in my mid-level leaders. So, building in how do you manage up, down and across, working on risk taking and those kinds of things that we'd like to build in strong leaders across the board. So again, it does take that kind of momentum to really get it to go. But this organization has the best potential to really impact it.

Jon Fansmith: Well, we are at a great point where if people in the audience have questions, we would invite you to come up. The microphone is right there. And we have someone coming. If you don't mind identifying yourself, that would be wonderful.

Astrid Sheil: Hi, I'm Astrid Sheil. I'm the dean of the business school at Shenandoah University in Winchester. And just two things I want to talk about real briefly. I came to academia late. I had a full career in corporate work. And, because my kids got to a certain age, I couldn't travel internationally. I went back to school and started completely from the bottom working myself up. About six years after I got into academia, I was a full professor. I published a textbook. I was doing X, Y, and Z. And all of a sudden I was bored. I wasn't using all of the... and nobody talked to me. There was no passageway to the chair because that guy was strapped in and belted in for life. And I was looking around and I thought...

So, I literally walked up to the provost. I saw him on a walk and I said, "Hey! Listen, you better find something for me to do because I'm bored and I'm going to go back into corporate work because you're not paying me enough." And he laughed and he said, "Oh, I got you." And he... and I immediately, not only did he help me, but I jumped schools. I went from arts and letters. I went to the College of Business and I took over as chair of accounting and finance. I don't recommend that, by the way. It was a harrowing experience. But two-and-a-half years into it, then the president, Tomás Morales, said, "Astrid, we want to send you to ACE Fellows Program. I came, I interviewed. I was in Kenya's class, and I remember the very first time I came to the ACE meeting in Washington, DC. I walked in and there were 2,000 presidents, provosts. It was like I found the mother load.

And I thought, this is where it is. But nobody had ever said a word to me until I complained and said, "I'm bored." So, I'm hoping that ACE takes that.... There are a lot of mes out there, ready and willing to do things-

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: And talented, yes.

Astrid Sheil: But, you got to let us know. I had no idea you all existed until I came to interview. So that's one thing. The second thing, just briefly, for those of you who are recruiters in this room: If I hear it once, I hear it twice, we work for the university. How about working for some of us as well? Think about it in a little bit differently. Think about what happens with sports people. They get represented. I think about somebody like Kenya or me. We could make you a lot of money repping us around the country, but I know that's a model that also has to change, I believe.

Sarah Spreitzer: Thank you.

Pamela Eddy: I think an important point of that is creating opportunities so that... I may have had a similar situation with the department chair and started going elsewhere on campus to be able to say, "I think I could be a benefit here." And then you become a known commodity on campus as someone who actually does what they say they're going to do. So you get tapped for other kind of things. The information piece of it is really critical though, because coming up through the disciplines, people don't know what they don't know. It's like, "Oh, I know the chemistry association."

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: Sure.

Pamela Eddy: Okay, but that's not going to get you at this table.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: Yeah. If I can just add one thing and comment to that. ACE has always done a real great focus for how we develop our folks at the department chair level. I also see another, am I going to take your question? I'm sorry- but, okay. So, one of the things that I see as an opportunity as well is if you look at... Depending on how your institution is aligned, but if you look at the department chair role, those are still your peers. Whereas when you step into the dean level role and you have the full administrative responsibility, taking that leap from chair to dean, a lot of times people walk into it without fully understanding how much you have to personally shift to make that leap. And I think we could do more to help people with that part.

I'm so struck by the conversation this morning and the journalist who talked about all the places in the pipeline where we have a potential for people to fall out. My dissertation research in the year of our Lord 1999, so funny, was on stop-out students. Well, now, with stop-outs, we talk about it routinely. We weren't at that point. Shame on me for not publishing the book then, but in any case... But we were talking about that. All those places where you can just lose people, and how often we don't get them back. And I think of all the women that could, to your point, Astrid could have done this, had all of the ability.

Or, some of you may have been at the women's dinner last night. To hear Michelle Asha Cooper, who is vice president with Lumina Foundation. She had the responsibility, I'd like to think of this kind of money. She had $76 billion in her hands to distribute her funding at the height of the pandemic. And she's been with associations. She's done all these things. And for someone to say to her, you don't quite have what it takes... she's written books on equity. I mean checking all the boxes of things competency-wise, we say a president needs, but she can't get through the door. Well, there's something wrong with that because we do see places where men can easily make the leap. Political appointees and others. All right. Sorry, Jim.

Jim Fatzinger: No, you're fine. Jim Fatzinger, ACE Fellow '11-12, currently work at Elon University and Vanderbilt University. And encourage everyone in the room to join the Council of Fellows if you're an ACE Fellow. That being said, ACE does a great job as an umbrella organization over all of the higher education institutions in the country in representing higher ed. As a president, and for the members of the panel: What do you see as some of the brightest opportunities on the horizon for higher education?

Pamela Eddy: Well, I think we have the chance to reinvent ourselves if we're willing to take the risk. And understanding there's going to be failures along the way, which is a difficult pill to swallow when you might lose your job over that. I think if we really tap into understanding what it takes to reimagine and rethink the process, we are losing a lot of our staff. We're working on enrollment.

We need to actually think differently. We need to understand how to articulate our value proposition. So when you're in the grocery store and someone comes up and say, "Oh my gosh, college costs so much. This is ridiculous." Or at a family dinner when you're back home. How do you talk about that? And so, when I start talking about the decline in state funding to my sister-in-law who's not very interested in that, it has to be more than that to say, "This is why it costs a lot." What is the value? And in the old days when we had dark hair, we would be able to talk about, "Well, it's all about learning and it's really about personal development and growth," and now we really need to address the economics of this. And we have to tell our own story because a lot of other people are telling the story for us.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: Yeah. I got six different ways I could go with this. I'm just, I'm trying to think. So yeah, I agree with you about how we tell our stories. I also just think... As a president, from this lens of experience, there's just so much more. There's just so much more, Jim. And when I think about what ACE has... Or where we can make the most impact in higher ed in the near future, I'll tell you... I'll let you guys in on a secret.

On my long wishlist, the things that keep me up at night are not about all the legal things that happen or the accidents. I mean, things happen, right? I effectively run a little city. So things are going to happen. Emergencies happen, things ebb and flow, we get through them. But what keeps me up at night are the barriers between educational sectors. They don't serve us well. So what I'd love to do if someone just waved their magic wand and gave me $76 billion and I could just do what I wanted, I want to create a system that where K through 20 pipeline is all in one system where we could see how much we really could affect through that kind of aligned organization. That'd be fun. Thank you.

Emma Jones: Good afternoon. Thanks so much for the opportunity to hear from you on the panel. My name is Emma Jones. I'm the executive vice president and one of the owners at Credo. We're a national higher education consulting firm, and we do a lot of work in the leadership space, have with women for years.

One of the things we've heard anecdotally for years is that, often, when women come into the presidency, they are ill-informed about the realities of the campus. And I was struck to see that in the ACE data that came out. Actually, kind of thrilled to see it in writing. So it wasn't just the stories that we were hearing from presidents. And I wonder what the take might be from this panel on what needs to change with boards in order for this to not be the situation? [audience laughter]

Jon Fansmith: We have a few minutes left.

Emma Jones: This real equitable issue happening through the presidential search process where women and people of color are less informed about the realities of institutions as they're coming in. Thank you.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: Emma, since you referenced the time shortage, I want to get right to the point. I really feel like we have to deal with implicit bias, and we have to help people understand that unconscious bias and ways in which it interferes. And it happens for all of us. It's not limited to one segment of the population, but if we don't have the ability to have a reality check, again, we'll keep replicating the same thing had in the past.

At the top of the hour, we talked about what it looks like when there is a opportunity ahead that's five years in the future with 50% of the presidencies turning over. This is the time period that we've got to be building toward that. And so, what are we going to put in place? It's professional development. It is bringing... Even in who you have do the development, those folks, are they women who are talking about these kinds of things? Not in an accusatory or an attacking way, but in a way that says, "Let me just share the reality of my experience."

I've seen some people do some great things with reality theater where they break the third wall and you have the opportunity to really play out what a search candidates experience is. And then allow those people in the room who are board members to say, well, how did that make you feel? Or why do you think that happened? Or what happened? I'll give it a quick example. When I was... I applied one year for presidency, and I became a finalist in two. And then I actually got a system offer, but I knew I wanted to be on a campus. So, I waited till the next year and went out again. In one of those finalist positions. And this is hard to know. I live at the intersectionality of race and gender. And I'd like to say I looked young because it was pre-pandemic.

Well, what happened was, I went to meet the person who was supposed to greet me in the lobby of the hotel, and I sat and I sat. No one had described her to me. And, ultimately when finally the people in the room came out, the board members, it turned out the young lady was sitting across from me, but I didn't look like who she thought a college president should be.

Well, shame on her, but I have to tell you, it happens all the time. Even sitting in the role. And that's not about this young lady, but it's about the college presidency and the data shows it, is felt to look a certain way. Or someone looks presidential. Well, a president can wear a green suit and stand up on a stage and love the work and cheer on people who don't look like them and stand up for students who look very different because we just love the work and we love the industry.

So, communicating those messages, maybe you're capturing the experts who know the work, do the work, and maybe it's telling the stories of the women, the women of color, the presidents of color, who are living that every day and have had some stories that probably have to be heard to be believed.

Pamela Eddy: Yeah. I think boards would be surprised at the number and the tone of comments you get us a woman. And... to this day, "Well, I'm not going to hire another woman because they have babies and they follow their husband." On my exit interview, after working 60-hour weeks. So, as you try to think of that bias based on just that snap decision that makes a difference.

The other is, the boards that may say, "Well, we had our woman president. We done it. Yay for us!" And so, trying to be able to think of where does it become the norm? So, if we look at tipping points, about 40%. So there's some ways to be encouraged as we creep up towards that number in the totals. But, until we can come in and someone will go up and say, "Oh, of course you're the candidate here." And being as welcoming with that. Because these stories travel. And so when you're trying to build that pipeline, you need to be honest with people, and encouraging, to be able to say, "It's possible. And together we'll be able to make some of this change."

Sarah Spreitzer: That's great. Well, to kind of wrap up our questions, and to bring it back to the ACPS 2023 report, which I failed to mention was supported by TIAA Institute, can you give us kind of your thoughts on what you thought the key takeaways were from the data in this report?

Pamela Eddy: I think one of them is how do we learn about leadership so that... We had identified a number of areas where presidents are struggling coming in, or needing to know more information, or being surprised? So, as we think of that pipeline, how do we help people learn about the role in real ways and coming in to be prepared for that? How do we take the presidents that are in place and use them as the advocates, as well? And this idea of tapping cannot be understated. So that if you've got your head down, you're doing your job, you don't actually know you've always done the best job until someone says, "You know, you should think about..." And I can't tell you the number of women presidents I've interviewed that said, "I never thought of this when I was nine years old." When did they start thinking about that?

I ran the self-study for the accrediting body and my president said, "You know, you really did a great job on that. You should consider..." And so, those kind of opportunities happen with all of us as well, not just the presidents. So, I constantly am coming up to people saying, you really should consider a presidency. How might you think about moving up here. And, how do we value the work of the mid-level leader as well? Obviously, a holy grail here that we're talking about is the presidency, but valuing that work that's occurring in the middle ranks as well.

Kenya Ayers-Palmore: I appreciate that. I also think... So, one, thinking more about the disparity between what a mentor is and what a sponsor is. Sometimes we are asking for mentors, what we really need as a sponsor. So to the point earlier, we have to have the courage to walk up to someone and say. Or to be in a position because we've nose to the grindstone, we've done the work, and to ask for what we need.

I was so struck at one point, I got offered an assignment, and I just took it because I was an administrator. And the president asked a colleague I was paired with on the same assignment, called the grandfather of the faculty, the oldest white male in the faculty, walked in and said to the president, "I need release time. I better have this and I need this." We became great friends. We partnered in the project very successfully. But what I learned when I was seething, because I didn't think to ask for anything, was to take a breath and go back and ask. And so I asked that president, "Would you mentor me?" And to this day, he became the greatest sponsor I've ever had.

It wasn't a mentorship. We joke about this. I just saw him last week and he got a lifetime award. But what he did was he opened up, and I'll tell my age, his Rolodex, so to speak, and he said, "I want you to go to future presidents." If you give me three good years, I'll send you and I'll nominate you as an ACE fellow. Now, I might have asked him if he'd do it, but because... I had researched him, right, we know how to do that. I'd done my homework. I knew he had been a fellow. I knew he'd sponsored one. But, because I asked, I became the first one he sent. So, stand up for yourself, ask the question. My grandmother said, "Closed mouths don't get fed."

And then, the last thing I would say is we have a responsibility to demystify the presidency to show people behind the veil, so to speak. And so that's where a lot of opportunity lies. I love the results of the survey, and I know there are wonderful, appropriate research disclaimers about over-sampled and all of these things, but it has a lot to tell us. And so I want to encourage those who read the survey, don't discount what it is telling us, because it is speaking the voices of a lot of people that need to be heard.

Jon Fansmith: It's a great note to end on. But before we go, I'm going to ask our audience to do three things for me. Three more cheers. I told you at the beginning we were going to do a lot of cheers. First cheer, we want to thank our producers: Anthony, Malcolm, Audrey, Laurie, Jack, Rebecca. They make us sound good. They prepare us so we don't sound stupid. They work very, very hard so it looks at least as semi-easy as it looks right now. So can we give them a cheer first?

Audience: Woo!

Jon Fansmith: Secondly, another group that definitely deserves a big cheer is all of you. Thank you for coming for such thoughtful questions, such engaged participation. It really makes a difference, the energy in the room, and I think Sarah and I can speak to that.

But then, finally, and maybe most importantly, please join us in thanking so much for such insightful, thoughtful commentary, your generous participation and your time, Pam and Kenya. Thank you. Thank you both so much. Thank you for joining us. [Audience applause]

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. While there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at podcast@acenet.edu to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And finally, a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together: Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Truehart, Rebecca Morris, Jack Nicholson, and Fatma NGom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Jon, Mushtaq, and I sound as good as possible. Finally, thank you so much to all of you for listening.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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