One female president shares her thoughts on gender, academia, and leadership

Says universities need more women in leadership roles

Women make up 60% of undergraduates but only about 25% of college presidents. In an interview with Politico, University of Connecticut president Susan Herbst discusses the need for more females throughout academe.

With Cornell University's appointment of Elizabeth Garrett, half of the Ivy Leagues will soon be led by women. But across the nation, just 22% of doctoral-granting schools and 33% of two-year colleges are headed by female presidents. And few major NCAA Division I programs employ female athletic directors.

Herbst says she has "never" felt discriminated against because of her gender, but recognized roadblocks women face when pursuing leadership positions on campus.

Balancing work and family life can be especially difficult, she says. Usually, someone aspiring to a president position must first move through the ranks of full professor, department chair, dean, and provost—each of which requires substantial weekend and evening hours.

But actually, Herbst says, "being female helped often" in the early stages of her career. Because so few women were full professors, she received invitations to leadership positions as administrators and trustees sought to diversify their staff.

To ease the strain on work-family balance, leaders today have tried to make academe more inclusive. Common strategies include increasing maternity and paternity leave flexibility, hiring professors as couples, and improving nearby access to childcare.

Even so, "no one has it all," says Herbst, "you just try to find balance and prioritize what matters" (Grasgreen, Politico, 10/22).


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