Women, Leadership, and Distance Education: A Brave New World or Darker Shades of the Glass Ceiling?

By Olcott, Don, Jr. | Distance Learning, May 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Women, Leadership, and Distance Education: A Brave New World or Darker Shades of the Glass Ceiling?


Olcott, Don, Jr., Distance Learning


The information revolution has precipitated one transformation after another across colleges and universities. One emerging development is the increasing number of women in technology-related positions. And, while this emerging trend cannot be attributed solely to distance education, one can make a convincing argument that distance education has been a catalyst for attracting more and more women into the technology-related professions. What is less apparent is whether this trend has resulted in more women assuming high-level leadership positions or whether we are seeing new manifestations of the glass ceiling. Perhaps both perspectives are valid, with the latter being somewhat perplexing.

Today, on nearly every university and college campus, you will see more women in positions that directly or indirectly support the application of information technology in teaching and learning. There are more women serving as instructional designers, evaluation specialists, online program developers, distance education marketing specialists, directors of technology partnerships and campus centers, and certainly many more women teaching with the vast arsenal of modern educational technologies. At first glance, it appears that a brave new world has evolved for women in distance education and information technology professions. Or has it? As Mark Twain once remarked, "of course truth is stranger than fiction . . . fiction has to make sense."

The contemporary truth that doesn't make sense is this: there is still a disproportionate number of men in engineering, business, and science faculties and even fewer female deans, vice presidents, CIO's, provosts, and presidents on the majority of campuses. These disturbing facts are accentuated further when one considers the gap between white males in top leadership positions and their minority male and female counterparts. This brave new world isn't quite as brave and things are not all-white (all right) in the hallowed halls of the academy.

Given we cannot fix the aggregate socio-ethnic-gender disparity in American colleges and universities with one silver bullet solution, lets focus on distance education and information technology. Let's start with some guiding assumptions for women to consider in opening the leadership doors for themselves:

* American higher education's historic culture, governance, and policy infrastructure was created, reinforced, and sustained by males. Given that women are commonly labeled as the emotional gender, it is ironic that the persistent dysfunctions of the academy historically are the creations of males.

* Males make the rules and when the rules don't work, men break the rules or create short-term status quo protection strategies that don't work either. Why? Because the system that has sustained their careers and rewarded them is broken; severely broken, as a matter of fact, and the only answers they have are embedded in the past. Boys will be boys and there is not one male on the planet who doesn't hope that his daughter will be given every opportunity to shine in her career and personal life. …

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Women, Leadership, and Distance Education: A Brave New World or Darker Shades of the Glass Ceiling?
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