ACE Leadership Vice President Lynn M. Gangone discusses ACE’s efforts to spur more diversity in higher education leadership.
Last week, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) (where I serve as a member of the national board of directors) was represented on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange floor for the ringing of the bell to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Gold Award, the highest award given to a Girl Scout. The event and its symbolism leads me to reflect on the leadership of underrepresented women and men and to consider the remarks of Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of GSUSA and ACE2016’s closing plenary speaker, among other experiences I have had since my return from teaching in Saudi Arabia.
Anna Maria Chavez, the first woman of color to head GSUSA, leads an organization that is facing unprecedented change, like many of our colleges and universities. Changing demographics, changing financial models, changing expectations, and changing modes of communication are all having an impact on higher education, in both positive and negative ways. As Anna spoke of her work as a change leader, she noted that often what girls do, particularly what girls of color do, is not well represented when we talk about leadership. She also noted that nearly everyone knows the Boy Scouts Eagle Scout Award but few know GSUSA’s Gold Award.
Also last week, I spoke with Patti Phillips, CEO of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators (NACWAA). Did you know that it’s harder to be a woman athletic director at a Division I institution than it is to be a woman president at one? Right now, over 40 years since the passage of Title IX, only 10 percent of the Division I athletic directors are women. Patti and I are in conversation about how to address issues of equity and diversity in leadership in collaborations between NACWAA and ACE.
Recently, many of us watched as Raymond Moore made incredibly sexist remarks regarding women who play competitive professional tennis. Serena Williams responded with amazing leadership and graciousness to Moore’s incredibly antiquated remarks. Even Novak Djokovic stated that men should earn more money because “they draw bigger crowds.” I and others tweeted about #RaymondMoore, and he was eventually removed from his post inside the Women’s Tennis Association. But, the fact that he could even make such comments made me stand back and shake my head in wonderment. (And of course, athletics is just one area where we see these episodes playing out—click here to see the latest incident of women journalists being trolled by social media.)
I’ve been working in the field of gender and racial equity since the early 1980s. To me, and to all of us inside of ACE Leadership, diversity and inclusion are at the core of what we do. And yet our progress moving diverse men and women into leadership in the academy, similarly to other sectors, is so very slow. Recently, I was interviewed by the American Association of University Women, an organization that also seeks to highlight that the paucity of women leaders of all races is still too apparent in the 21st century. When asked about this scarcity, I responded “until we make a cultural change about who is qualified and prepared to be a leader, we will continue to lack the unique perspective, talent, experience, and problem-solving approaches that well-educated women and other underrepresented groups have to offer.”
Our pipelines are filled with well-qualified women and men, yet our leadership at the top is still predominantly white, predominantly male and predominantly older. ACE’s upcoming American College President Study may indicate movement for women and men and women of color, as well as other underrepresented groups such as LGBT presidents—the numbers are currently being crunched, and we’ll know when the study is released next year. I am hopeful, but then, I am an eternal optimist . . . I think one needs to retain a sense of optimism in the face of slow progress.
In the meantime, ACE Leadership stands ready to advance ALL men and women in the academy. While all of our leadership programs embrace diversity and inclusion as a core concept, our programs specific to women, and men and women of color, remain necessary parts of our ACE Leadership portfolio. Our work with the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education is an important collaboration, as we explore how to be present for students of color and other underrepresented groups as those students seek to create positive change on college campuses. Our Moving the Needle: Advancing Women in Higher Education Leadership initiative has resulted in over a quarter of ACE’s presidents committing to advancing all women across the academy, with the specific goal of achieving gender parity in the presidency by 2030.
When I did my TEDxMileHigh talk in 2014, I became acquainted with the work of Soraya Chemaly, a writer-blogger who looks at how systems perpetuate gender bias, and I used several of her examples to illustrate how cultural and systemic changes can be made if we have intention. These changes, we would argue, enable men and women the capacity for full participation.
As I close these musings, I ask myself and each of you—what can we do to impact the culture and the system so that the pipeline of leaders can flow? While I remain an eternal optimist, my sense of urgency to see more women, and men and women of color, at the leadership table is strong. I’d like to see a significant change in my lifetime. Would you?