Administrative positions in colleges and universities are an example of leadership posts traditionally viewed as “men’s jobs.”
From the president to the provost, men have typically held these jobs, but recently there has been an increase in the number of women presidents of colleges and universities.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 percent of private four-year university presidents are women.
The number is only slightly higher for women presidents of two-year public or private universities at 30 percent, and is slightly lower, at 23 percent, for public universities.
Ohio Wesleyan has never had a female president, and the officers to the president have ordinarily, though not exclusively, been men.
However, this past summer, the president added two women on to his staff — Vice President for University Enrollment Rebecca Eckstein and Vice President for University Relations Colleen Garland. Both positions have a significant impact on the university.
Both women have brought their own insight to Ohio Wesleyan, said President Rock Jones.
“… Each brings extraordinary experience, talent and expertise to their work as officers …. Like each of the officers, they bring unique perspectives that enhance our work on behalf of the university,” he said.
Jones said while Eckstein and Garland were hired for knowledge of their respective fields, the fact that they are women was a value-added.
“While each was hired because of her experience and fit for the needs of OWU today, it was an extra benefit that we were able to bring two women to the officers’ table,” Jones said. “Their perspectives as professional women enrich our work considerably.”
In the summer of 2000, 11 of the 61 schools in the Association of American Universities, of which Ohio Wesleyan is not a part, had women in chief academic positions, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The publication also reported that attention should be paid to women’s leadership issues in higher education: “These women run the day-to-day operations of some of the most prestigious, complex universities in the country. They oversee budgets, decide which programs will grow or shrink, sign off on faculty hires, advise trustees, and, increasingly, raise big bucks.”
Such is the case for Colleen Garland. She is responsible for, among other things, overseeing alumni relations.
While Garland said she had never aspired to be a vice president, her drive to want to learn and grow has helped her to move forward.
“I like to be challenged, and to continuously learn and improve, and those qualities often lead to more responsibility and promotions,” she said.
Being a woman has also helped in her particular field, Garland said.
“I also believe women can be very effective in development and alumni relations as we tend to be good listeners, and we like to unite people around a cause or idea,” she said.
Dean of Students Kimberlie Goldsberry said she feels the number of women in positions of power obviously varies from university to university based on “the history, climate and mission of the university.”
And she argues that the more important factor is how power is defined. “I don’t like the word, ‘power,’ because of the baggage. We are in positions of influence,” she sad.
Goldsberry has had experiences at other universities where it was thought to be harder to move up into positions of power as a woman. But at Ohio Wesleyan she feels that is not the case.
“I have worked at institutions where it has been perceived to be hard to get a position as a woman,” she said.
“At OWU, it’s my understanding that it has had a rich history of having women in positions of power. You
wouldn’t see it being slanted one way or another.”
Both Garland and Eckstein echo Goldsberry who said at times she was challenged in a position simply because she was a woman.
“Several of my previous employers held biases toward women in higher level supervisory positions,” Eckstein said. “It was truly unfortunate and prompted me to seek positions elsewhere.”
While Goldsberry has not experienced this discrimination at OWU, she does feel there is a reason women are underrepresented in top leadership positions in higher education.
“In looking at career paths for women, they have more twists and turns than a man’s (path). That may be changing, but, as a whole, women tend to have a less traditional career path than their male counter parts,” she said.
Eckstein feels similarly to Goldsberry about women’s different career paths.
“I really feel like during the childbearing years, many women are torn between decisions of work and family and certainly not able to continue their education to progress to the level that they desire,” Eckstein said.
“After their children are somewhat self-sufficient, often women feel like it is too late or too much time has elapsed to continue their education to progress to that higher level.”
Women may not be the majority in traditional roles of power at colleges and universities, but the number is growing, creating more role models.
The more women that are in top positions, the less assumptions are made about who can is capable of doing a certain job, experts argue.
While 25 percent of women presidents may seem to be a small number, it is a number that has certainly increased over the years.
According to the website Inside Higher Ed, of the 2,148 higher education institutions in the U.S., 494 had female presidents as of 2011.
Goldsberry feels there are changes coming that may make this number higher.
“I certainly think there are some initiations where (women being unrepresented) is the case, but I think you’re seeing dramatic changes in that,” she said. “I have had folks share with me that the opportunities are going to be there in the future. There are a lot more women coming up through the ranks that are going to elevate to that role (of president) if they so choose to.”