Roles and Succession Planning

Roles of Key Leaders in State Networks

​Each state network may have a different set of key positions for successful operation of the network, but every network should have succession plans in place for:

  • State chair
  • Planning/governing board members
  • Presidential sponsors
  • Institutional representatives

Your state network should have a position description for each of its key leadership roles. This description should identify the key roles associated with each position and any key skills that may be helpful to an individual within that role. The ACE Women’s Network has a set of roles and expectations generally associated with the aforementioned positions generally found within state networks, which can be used as a guide for your state network.

Here are some examples of those roles.

 State Chair

​The state chair is a key leader of the ACE Women’s Network in her state. Each state network is expected to select a state chair and notify ACE of the designated chair’s name, institutional affiliation, and contact information. Selection as state chair is typically based on the chair’s previous administrative experience and commitment to women’s issues in higher education as well as involvement with the respective state network. Most often, the chair has served over a period of years as a member of the state network’s governing body and has been nominated for this position by the members of the state network. Members of the WNEC or one of the state’s presidential sponsors may also nominate individuals to serve as state chairs.

Notification of the selection of a state chair should be sent to the ACE Women’s Network (​). ACE will formally acknowledge the state chair and list the designated chair in the ACE Women’s Network Directory.

The expectations of the state chair are as follows:

  • Serve as the liaison between the state network, institutional representatives (IRs), ACE, and the WNEC.
  • Ensure that the list of minimum requirements for state organizations to participate in the ACE Women’s Network is fulfilled.
  • Use the ACE Women’s Network Toolkit as a guide for operations.
  • Provide leadership to the state planning committee or executive board.
  • Support the mission, vision, and core principles of the ACE Women’s Network.
  • Support programs of the ACE Women’s Network.
  • Attend the annual Women’s Network Leadership Conference, typically held in conjunction with the ACE Annual Meeting.
  • Ensure that bylaws are established, reviewed, and revised as appropriate.
  • Identify and nominate women to participate as IRs, presidential sponsors, or members of the state network planning board or WNEC as needed.
  • Recognize the value of the work done by the IRs by publicly citing their work where appropriate.
  • Inform ACE and the WNEC regional liaison of any changes in leadership.
  • Provide regular communication with the WNEC regional liaison.

 Presidential Sponsor

​Presidential sponsors serve as advisors and mentors to the state chairs and state planning boards.

Each state network should have at least one president to serve in this capacity. The sponsors are appointed by the state network and are acknowledged by ACE. WNEC members may suggest potential presidential sponsors to the network.

Presidential sponsors may show support in the following ways:

  • Identify and nominate state chairs for state networks.
  • Nominate women to provide leadership on the WNEC, to be presidential sponsors, for participation on statewide committees, or for senior-level positions in higher education.
  • Prepare and lead presentations and workshops at conferences and other programs for women in higher education at the state or national level.
  • Provide moral support and, where possible, staffing, time, and funding to the state network for worthy projects, and/or help state chairs and state planning boards in identifying and securing the resources necessary to sustain the state network and its initiatives.
  • Recognize the value of the work done by the chair and planning board by publicly citing their work where appropriate.
  • Inform the states on issues regarding women in higher education.

Presidential sponsors should support and develop strategies that meet the specific needs of women in higher education within their state.

 Institutional Representative

The institutional representative (IR) is a key person in the development and implementation of the strategic plans of a state network. Ideally, each institution of higher education in the state should appoint an IR to represent and serve as an advocate for the interests of women’s leadership development and advancement in higher education at the institution.

The president of the institution may appoint the IR to the role, or the state chair and state network governing body may solicit recommendations for individuals to serve as IRs.

IRs work in close collaboration with the state chair and the state network governing body, and serve as a liaison between the women at their institution and the state network. Institutional representatives may wish to appoint a committee to serve their campus.

General expectations of institutional representatives include:

  • Identify all women in key leadership positions on campus, including women administrators and women who hold significant leadership positions on the faculty.
  • Provide information to the state chair about women administrators on the campus, including new appointments, resignations, title changes, and vacant leadership positions.
  • Assist the state chair and the state governing body in developing and implementing state workshops and conferences designed to encourage women aspiring to administrative leadership roles.
  • Establish, when appropriate, linkages between the state network and other campus programs focusing on women.
  • Build a campus network to identify other women as potential leaders and mentor themin their aspirations.
  • Participate as appropriate in local, regional, and statewide meetings.
  • Encourage senior-level women and men to serve as mentors or sponsors to women in mid-level administrative positions or to other women who have demonstrated potential for administrative responsibilities.
  • Establish support groups and mentoring opportunities for tenure-track women.
  • Learn about institutional policies and procedures that identify, prepare, and advance the college or university’s administrators.
  • Develop strategies that meet specific needs of women in higher education at her institution.

 Women's Network Executive Council

T​he Women’s Network Executive Council (WNEC) supports the state networks by serving as liaisons to state chairs and providing leadership for developing or strengthening state planning boards; mentoring state chairs; and advising ACE on issues related to identifying, developing, encouraging, advancing, leading, and supporting women in higher education. The WNEC serves in an advisory capacity to ACE on issues pertaining to the ACE Women’s Network and women leaders in general.

As a Council member, you are expected to:

  • Identify and share information about promising practices that meet the needs of women leaders.
  • Nominate potential members of the WNEC for Council consideration.
  • Assist in developing the program for the ACE Women’s Network State Chairs Leadership Conference.
  • Participate in conference calls and meetings of the WNEC.
  • Provide input for and assist in the ongoing development of the Moving the Needle initiative.
  • Donate annually to the Women’s Legacy Leadership Fund.
  • Speak, as requested, at ACE events.
  • Advise ACE on issues related to women leaders and on other aspects of ACE’s leadership and advocacy efforts as requested.
  • Recommend ACE’s Women’s Leadership Forums to women leaders as appropriate.

As a liaison to state networks, you are expected to:

  • Mentor state chairs and members of state planning boards.
  • Assist state planning boards in developing organizational strategies to meet the needs of the state and ensure continuing leadership of the state network, including:
    • Developing communication and public relations plans
    • Identifying state chairs or other leaders for the state network.
    • Recruiting institutional representatives (IRs) and presidential sponsors
  • Identify issues affecting the needs of state networks, and work with ACE and the WNEC to determine possible ways to address them.
  • Identify the kinds of information that would be helpful to state networks and share that information with the WNEC and ACE.
  • Inform ACE about what is happening in each state for which the member serves as liaison.
  • Encourage state chairs to attend the State Chairs Annual Conference.
  • Offer moral support to emerging leaders in their next steps.
  • Inform state networks of issues regarding women in higher education and of ACE priorities and initiatives.
  • Assist state planning boards with the identification of speakers for state network events and serve as a speaker for such events when possible.

In addition to the above expectations, we encourage Council members to:

  • Prepare and lead presentations and workshops at conferences and other programs for women in higher education at the state or national level.
  • Prepare op-ed pieces on issues related to women in higher education for use in media outlets or ACE publications such as Higher Education Today.
  • Celebrate women’s leadership in higher education.

​The success of any state network generally depends on a combination of individuals operating within these three types of roles. The succession plan should address two types of departures:

  • Planned departures. These may result from term limits generally outlined within the bylaws of the state network, but also may be announced well in advance of someone leaving a role, going on sabbatical, or departing from the state.
  • Unplanned departures, which may result from someone unexpectedly needing to leave their position, becoming ill, or passing away.
Succession Planning

In order to ensure the effective functioning and continuity of the individual state network, it is imperative that state chairs and their planning boards pay close attention to succession planning as an integral part of their organizational structure and activities. It is the expectation of ACE and the WNEC that each state network will establish a succession plan for the state network’s leadership.

Succession planning ensures not only smooth transitions within state network planning boards but also the sustainability and ongoing success of the state network. It is essential that the long-term leadership plans of a state network are not left to chance and that there is deliberate thought given to plans for leadership succession.

Identifying and Cultivating Talent

​Each state network should find ways to identify new leaders and prepare them to take on leadership positions. Identifying women leaders, developing their leadership abilities, and encouraging the use of those abilities, after all, are among the core principles of the ACE Women’s Network. Leadership positions within a state network provide meaningful opportunities to simultaneously enhance the skills of individuals and build a community of leaders within the network.

  • Identify individuals from the membership of state networks who may have an interest in serving on committees or as institutional representatives. They may have great potential to serve in the future as state chair or planning board members.
  • Engage the planning board in a conversation about possible candidates to take on leadership positions before an identified need for a transition. Think about the membership of the state network, along with individuals at institutions where planning board members serve.
  • Consider ways that the leadership of your state network can expose others to the inner workings of the network. Conducting open, virtual business meetings for all members to hear about what’s happening at the national and state level exposes members to some of the behind-the-scenes insights and can also demystify the concept of volunteer board leadership for potential future network leaders. Providing opportunities for volunteers to engage with planning committees or for members to share their ideas for events are also opportunities to get others involved in meaningful ways.
Diversity in Leadership

It is important for state networks consider the importance of diversity within their leadership. Leadership diversity generally positions organizations for more inclusive practices, better perspective on the needs of their members, and greater innovation in serving their members. Diversity of thought and experiences can strengthen a state network’s ability to achieve its goals and provide stronger networks for women leaders overall. A few key aspects to consider when looking at the diversity of planning boards are:

  • Racial/ethnic diversity
  • Age/generational diversity
  • Institutional type, size, and control variance
  • Geographical representation within the state
  • Career levels (e.g., entry-, mid-, executive, etc.)

A state network’s succession plan should identify the process to be followed for planned and unplanned departures of key leaders within the network. The goal of a succession plan is to ensure the state network is sustained through planned and consistent leadership. State networks are encouraged to keep diversity and leadership development as central considerations within its succession plan. The goal is to allow consistent leadership over time, but not allow the board and the organization to have “institutionalized” its own leadership.

Key Questions for Succession Planning

What officers will our network have?

It is quite common for state networks to have a president, vice president (who may also serve as president-elect), immediate past president, treasurer, and individuals designated to lead key committees such as communications/outreach, conference and events, etc.

Will the president and the state chair be the same individual?

For many state networks, the individual who serves as the president also is designated as the primary liaison with ACE, known as the state chair.

If not, how will the president and the state chair be identified? Election, call for volunteers, etc.

Will our network have term limits for key positions?

Term limits of officers can vary widely, but it is typical to see terms range between one and three years depending on the role.

If so, how long is each term?
How will we ensure that term limits allow for leadership overlap so that there is consistent leadership and smooth transitions within key positions?

What happens if our presidential sponsor leaves their institution?

In some instances, the new president of that institution may desire to become the presidential sponsor for the state network. In other instances, when the departing president will be at another institution within the state, the individual may select to remain presidential sponsor. State networks should contact the presidential sponsor as soon as they become aware of a transition to confirm what their plans are regarding the role of sponsor.

Who will take on a key position (e.g., state chair, president, etc.) in the event of an unplanned departure?

In some instances, the chair-elect/president-elect may be able to move immediately into the role and conclude their successor’s term then begin their scheduled term in office. In other instances, the immediate past chair/president may be best positioned to take on the role. Your succession plan should give guidance to determining this.

Who will determine the leadership of the state network? Will the planning/governing board make the decision or will the state network membership vote on officers?

The succession plan and bylaws should address the process your network will use to determine officers.

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