To Lead or Not to Lead: Women Achieving Leadership Status in Higher Education

By BlackChen, Marsha | Advancing Women in Leadership, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

To Lead or Not to Lead: Women Achieving Leadership Status in Higher Education


BlackChen, Marsha, Advancing Women in Leadership


Introduction

The obvious is that, higher education is seen as androcentric, as if it were a caveat, and, the barriers this situation has created for women in education, as well as the wider society. The "glass ceiling" (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991, p. 1) is evident, and women in higher education have had to face the daunting task of proving themselves in this so-called male dominated field, in order to be recognized as leaders. Their male counterparts on the other hand, have been allowed to grow at a greater pace in the higher education system, for example; men dominate presidencies in all categories or types of institutions (Glazer-Raymo, 2008). Society is therefore seen as very male dominated, and as such, structurally and culturally, men's methods of decision-making have created a myriad of challenges for women. And "the glass ceiling" which refers to the invisible or artificial barriers that prevent women from advancing past a certain level (Federal Glass Ceiling Commission-FGCC, 1997; Morrison & von Glinow, 1990) have created many obstacles for women in higher education to prove themselves worthy of being in the same category as men. This has therefore limited their leadership capacity, while fostering institutional prejudices, as leadership prepares and guides performance on a level where the individual and organization can be successful.

The leadership capacity in women has therefore been overlooked because of their gender, and this highlights the fact that the competition for educational and economic opportunities is neither neutral nor fair, as women are judged by standards irrelevant to the competition. There is a tacit pro-male bias in hiring, and the scope for upward mobility poses many challenges. The evaluation procedures constitute a form of discrimination that continues to harm women in higher education. Aguirre (2000) echoed that if there is too much stress at the work place preventing faculty from performing workplace tasks satisfactorily, then professional socialization, such as promotion and tenure would be disrupted. Without a doubt, women have made significant progress in attaining leadership positions in higher education; however, they still need to be given the golden opportunity to adequately make their contribution as leaders. Higher education institutions need to be cognizant of the realities of the workplace, and therefore understand that the workplace needs to be conducive for females, as it is for males.

Literature Review

Women in Higher Education

At whatever level women desire to reach in higher education, there appears to be a barrier-blocking ascendency. Women's representation in colleges and universities throughout the world in on the rise, and is increasingly approaching the gender parity of 50 percent (Bradley, 2000). Most noteworthy is that, in the United States of America, more women are expected to occupy college professor's position, as they represent 58 percent of young adults between the ages of 25 to 29, many of who hold an advanced degree (U.S. Census Bureau News, 2011). And where as more and more women are in colleges and universities poised to enter leadership roles, upper leadership in higher education administration has a pyramid structure, and women are bunched at the base (Kaplan & Tinsley, 1989). Consequently, women are far more likely to be deans, associate deans, directors, vice presidents or provosts especially in public institutions, as opposed to private ones, and there are many contributing factors to this.

Lack of empowerment for women is a contributing factor why many women do not have leadership roles in higher education. We often hear of the old boys club, but never of the old girls club. Men seem to mentor other men, especially in professional situations leading to a gate-keeping phenomenon. Male faculty is also paid more than female faculty. Collins, Chrisler and Quina (1998) state that there are two determinants for this; human capital which determines the qualities the individual brings to the work place, and institutional structure which looks at the source of budget, their prestige, student population and their mission. …

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