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Empowering Women for Academic Leadership Roles


This past week, I had the pleasure of attending a session on empowering women for academic leadership roles. The event was held at the University of Pennsylvania and featured female academic leaders — our president, deans, center leaders and department chairs. Together, these impressive women offered advice to all of the women in the audience. I firmly believe in passing on valuable information to others so I am including what I learned below.

First, to be an academic leader you must be a superb scholar and thought leader. If you want to advance and have the respect of your faculty colleagues, you need to earn that respect by conducting rigorous research and by speaking out on important issues.

Second, rather than merely ticking accomplishments off their list, women need to take time to enjoy their success. They need to enjoy it while it’s happening. Women also need to share these accomplishments with younger women, detailing how they accomplished their goals.

Third, colleges and universities need to think deeply about the impediments that stand in the way of women earning tenure, as earning tenure is the pathway to academic leadership. Current leadership needs to examine these impediments and work to remove them. For example, what kind of family leave policies are in place and are these policies embraced and actualized by current academic leadership? When are meetings held? This is a simple question, but meetings that are held early in the morning and in the evening disadvantage women who still bear the majority of child-rearing responsibilities. Not being able to attend important meetings can disadvantage women.

Fourth, colleges and universities should establish leadership training programs that disproportionately prepare women and people of color for leadership roles. These programs can provide mentors and also demystify the pathway to academic leadership.

Fifth, presidents of institutions of higher education need to charge their deans with advancing more women and minorities in leadership positions at the school and college level. This expectation should be linked to performance appraisals for deans.

Lastly, male faculty members and administrators need to be made aware of the “facts” pertaining to women within academe — both nationally and within their college or university. Often, men operate with inaccurate information about the success of women and are unaware of the gender disparities that continue to exist. Women benefit when men are informed and can offer their support to the advancement of women.

A professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of “Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of “Understanding Minority Serving Institutions” (SUNY Press, 2008).

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