Women in Higher Education Leadership: Exploring the Intersections of Race and Gender

Women in Higher Education Leadership: Exploring the Intersections of Race and Gender

Lauren T. Gonyea (State University of New York College at Plattsburgh, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7056-1.ch004
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Women face many challenges when it comes to leadership in higher education. The experiences of women in leadership are not monolithic, particularly in terms of race. This chapter seeks to illuminate the realities of five women of a variety of races/ethnicities who self-identify as leaders in higher education. Five cisgender women of varying races/ethnicities were interviewed to share specific challenges, issues, strategies, and solutions associated with being a woman in higher education leadership. Specifically, the races/ethnicities of the women who were interviewed include Native American, Black, Chinese, Korean, and White. This chapter will focus on their experiences through the intersectional lens of race and gender.
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When imagining the typical college president, an older White man most likely comes to mind. While the percentage of women college presidents has increased over the years, women are still largely underrepresented in terms of college presidencies. Specifically, women of color are the most underrepresented. In 2016, 70% of college presidents were men and 83% of college presidents were White (American Council on Education, 2018). It is not surprising White men dominate the field in terms of college presidencies given the limited representation of women in leadership positions outside of higher education. In 2017, 32 women chief executives made the Fortune 500 list (Fortune Editors, 2017). While this may be a record number of women on the Fortune 500 list, women still only comprise 6.4% of the list.

Looking at the top, representation for women in leadership positions is relatively small. Ideally, representation of women in leadership positions is more than symbolic. Researchers have examined how the diversity of a population influences policy. The representative bureaucracy theory, coined by Kingsley (1944), argues that diversity in the public sector workforce leads to policy outcomes that reflect the interests of the represented groups. For instance, Lee and Won (2016) use this theory to indicate that the representation of women in pre-tenure faculty positions has a positive association with Title IX compliance. This study also found the representation of women in state legislatures was positively associated with Title IX compliance of public institutions. Thus, increasing representation of women may be a crucial step to ensuring that policy outcomes are more inclusive of women. This highlights the importance of increasing the diversity of work environments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Bi-Ethnic: Involving two distinct ethnicities.

Passing (Racial Identity): When a person of a marginalized group is accepted as a member of the dominant group.

Internalized Oppression: When members of an oppressed group accept or reaffirm negative stereotypes against their own group. Individuals with internalized oppression may hold an oppressive view against their own population.

Hypervigilance: Being in an enhanced state or alertness, which may bring about stress, anxiety, or exhaustion.

Intersectionality: Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is a feminist theory that takes into consideration the intersections of identity such as race, gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

Imposter Phenomenon: A feeling of phoniness in high achieving individuals. Individuals attribute their success to luck rather than internal qualities.

Microaggression: Covert discrimination of a marginalized person or group.

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