Moving the Needle: A Recap of Discussions at ACE2018

Moving the Needle: Advancing Women in Higher Education Leadership has been a signature initiative for ACE and the ACE Women’s Network Executive Council (WNEC) since its inception in 2010. The mission—to create parity for women holding, and aspiring to hold, leadership positions in the academy—has been carried out through a series of national summits, women’s leadership forums, and the ACE Women’s Network.

On March 11, 2018, leaders from the ACE Women’s Network and invited guests gathered to discuss suggestions on practical ways to advance the Moving the Needle (MTN) initiative at the national, institutional, and state levels. Four major key themes emerged from this discussion.

1.    Mentoring, sponsorship, and coaching play a significant role for women seeking advancement opportunities. State chairs shared that we need a pipeline of women leaders, but that these leaders can benefit from key relationships that focus on advancement and career success, such as with mentoring, sponsorship, and coaching. There is a need to identify individuals who can serve in these capacities for women leaders, but there is also a need for clarity around how to most effectively engage with a mentor, coach, or sponsor.

2.    Additional research is needed. We need research that illuminates promising practices in fostering inclusive environments and advancing women leaders. We also need additional data on the benefits of diverse and inclusive leadership in higher education that highlights the benefits of women leaders in order to provide a strong rationale for institutional decision making.

3.    Barriers to women’s advancement persist. We are all well aware of the many barriers to women’s advancement, but we have to mitigate these barriers in order to achieve our goal. This includes developing and strengthening community for women at the institutional level through such efforts as Lean-In Circles and providing shadowing opportunities for aspiring leaders. Training women to prepare for interviews at the senior level, along with how to best position themselves for advancement, are also important strategies for consideration.

4.    Moving the Needle requires working with and through multiple constituents. MTN has always been recognized as a collaborative effort, but the need to engage individuals at multiple levels within higher education leadership in this work remains crucial to its ultimate success. Engaging state network leaders in discussions about how to present the MTN initiative at their institutions, to governing boards, and even to state legislators and leaders is important given the significant decision-making influence of these bodies.

ACE and the Women’s Network Executive Council (WNEC) will continue to work on strategies to address some of these needs, some of which we believe will be accomplished through the recently announced comprehensive redesign of our ACE’s leadership development programs. We will also continue to engage state chairs in discussions on ways we can work collaboratively to address the needs of state networks in supporting the advancement of women leaders. We encourage state chairs to take these themes back to your state networks to discuss how the networks and institutions within your states can advance efforts under the themes, and to consider ways that ACE and the WNEC can support your efforts. We are committed to our goal of achieving gender parity in the presidency by 2030 and to advance and support women leaders throughout their careers within the academy, and now is the time for all of us to lean in and dig deep to ensure we accomplish this.

Gailda Pitre Davis, Director, ACE Leadership, American Council on Education