Women’s Impact In Higher Education Leadership Roles
Women’s tenure in higher education institutions in the United States began much more recently than many people realize. In that time, the changes they’ve been able to create, assist, and inspire have often been formative and fundamental not only for their individual institutions but for the landscape as a whole. Why is this? And what unique strengths and values do women in higher education leadership bring to the table? It is imperative for higher education institutions to answer these questions.
The very future of higher education is in tenuous balance. Institutions need to fill their decision-making positions with the strongest, brightest, and best fits for the job. There has never been a more pertinent time to examine how the process of inviting women into leadership roles has created incredible value for higher education as a whole.
The History Of Women In Higher Education
Women’s journey into higher education has been fraught with difficulty and effort. The first universities in the United States did not admit women. Any woman who managed to secure an exception and attend would have needed to have been wealthy and white to have any chance. During the 1700s, the first women’s higher education institution was founded by a rich young countess in Massachusetts. Other institutions very slowly followed. Midway through the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female to earn a degree in medical studies.
Even though progress toward making higher education equally accessible to men and women has advanced in strides over the past century, it has been slow going and there is still much work to be done. For example, Dartmouth University (an Ivy League institution) only began enrolling female students in 1972. However, the tide is turning, and more women currently hold high positions of leadership in higher education than ever before. As an example, a growing number of female presidents presiding over prestigious institutions are beginning to helm some of the most influential parts of our societal and cultural fabric.
Oftentimes these individuals are incredibly accomplished or decorated, having served in other elite political, academic, or international capacities before taking on their presidential positions. These women are helping to shape the future of higher education in real time. Their influence is and will continue to be a vital part of keeping our higher education landscape healthy and vibrant and navigating the future’s uncharted waters.
Traits That Make Exceptional Leaders
Whether male or female, anyone who holds a leadership position will benefit from possessing or learning certain traits and skills that will enable their leadership to be effective. Without these attributes, it is very difficult to lead effectively. Conversely, when these traits are employed, one’s impact and influence as a leader can be significant and long-lasting.
This is a vital skill for leaders, and especially those that hold high positions in higher education. Especially when a landscape is fraught with uncertainty (like the field of higher education is at the moment), a leader needs to develop an in-depth understanding of the situation at hand and produce a picture of the place their institution could reach in the future that their colleagues and subordinates find compelling.
Humility is an imperative quality in leaders who want to build lasting, strong connections with those they lead. Humility allows others to be right, invites others to achieve, and supports and celebrates others’ successes. This contributes to strong team culture and maximum team member contributions for the good of the organization as a whole.
3. Ethical Integrity
This is a multifaceted, complex leadership quality. Ethical leadership can be enacted in a number of different ways and should be approached and implemented with care. However, when done well, ethical leadership not only protects an institution from falling into trouble but creates an embedded culture that affects each of its members positively and helps propel more ethical decision-making, thought processes, and behavior.
Transparency takes effort. However, for the leader who is willing to enact it and conduct themselves with transparency, there is much to be gained. This includes fostering deeper trust and respect amongst colleagues and subordinates, inspiring greater transparency from and amongst organization members, increased learning, better decision quality, and more.
While stereotypes are only that, it is worth mentioning that many of these qualities and traits are ones that females stereotypically demonstrate in higher quantities, or are more likely to incorporate into their conduct, than males. Female leaders can often bring with them higher chances of leading with more humanistic qualities, person-oriented outlooks, and approachable interaction styles than the average male in the same position.
The Importance Of Diversity And Female Representation In Higher Education
Women in higher education leadership roles can create observable benefits and impacts that are imperative for continuing to develop the horizon and strengthen institutions to weather the next chapter of history for the higher ed landscape. Women in higher education leadership positions inspire the next generation of females (and individuals of all types) to aspire to leadership as well.
Women contribute greater diversity of thought, problem-solving, and experience to organizations where they lead or hold decision-making positions. These promote and facilitate better decision-making and can refine the overall quality of an institution’s performance and direction.
Women can contribute meaningfully to a healthier representative range of leadership styles within an institution. There are many ways to lead. When a particular style or flavor of leadership dominates a culture or an institution, it can become stagnant and stale. Refreshing that pattern with differences in leadership styles can bring health and vitality to higher ed institutions.