When Drew Gilpin Faust was selected as the 28th president of Harvard University in February 2007, a flurry of news and opinion articles marked a new era in higher education administration. She was described as “friendly, collaborative, a consensus builder, and a good administrator,” noting a change not just in institutional direction for Harvard, but in leadership style, too (Bornstein 2007, p. 21).
In response to the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” higher education researchers Kelly Ward and Pamela Eddy applied the book’s content to women in higher education. According to Ward and Eddy (2013), women “lean back from the ladder of academic progress, promotion, and leadership because of a perception that advanced positions in academe are not open to women, and particularly women who hope to make time for a family or life beyond work” (para. 5). Women sometimes choose to stay at mid-level positions because they do not perceive opportunities for internal growth at their universities, or they are not interested in the public-facing pressure experienced by top leaders at universities (Ward and Eddy 2013).
According to the American College President Study by the American Council on Education, the percentage of college presidents who were women was 10% in 1986, and more than doubled to 26% in 2012. Why is it that women earn the majority of postsecondary degrees, but only a small portion hold leadership roles in postsecondary institutions?
Statistics on Women Leaders in Higher Education
Since the 1970s, the percentage of women making up the United States labor force has increased dramatically, peaking in 1999 at 60%. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 Current Population Survey, women made up 58.6% of the workforce in 2010.
The White House Project (2009) reports that in academia:
1. “Nationally, women are 57% of all college students, but only 26% of full professors, 23% of university presidents and 14% of presidents at the doctoral degree-granting institutions.
2. The number of female presidents has not changed in the last ten years.
3. Women account for less than 30% of the board members on college and university boards.
4. Female faculty have not made any progress in closing the salary gap with their male counterparts. In 1972, they made 83% of what male faculty made; today they make 82% of what male faculty make” (p. 10).
The American College President Study, which is conducted every five years by the American Council on Education, institution discussed the profile of female presidents to include the following comparisons: “institutions served, career path and length of service, and family circumstances.” In 2012, of the 1,622 presidents who responded, 26% were women. According to the American Council on Education, women presidents are much less likely to be married—72% of female presidents are married versus 90% of their male...