President search committees are overlooking women – Here’s why

“There’s a bias against women who are not in an academic rank. We have bigger hurdles to cross if we want to become college presidents," said Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar, Colgate chief of staff.

Not only do women run only 30% of college institutions, but it’s remained at this rate for decades, according to data from the American College President Study (ACPS), conducted by The American Council on Education (ACE).

A new study conducted by leaders from Colgate University has identified that a permeating reason why female leadership has stagnated is that president search committees tend to overlook women who have not served in academic roles, whereas the same is not true for men. Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar and L. Hazel Jack’s discovery partially disproves the usual mill of the rationale given for women hitting this glass ceiling, such as women opting to raise children instead, their general distaste for leadership roles and embedded sexism in the hiring process.

“We discovered a different kind of bias,” said Rodriguez-Farrar, according to Colgate Research. “Presidential searches tend to look at people who have been provosts or academic deans, which requires full professorship, and that pool is still male-dominated. “There’s a bias against women who are not in an academic rank. We have bigger hurdles to cross if we want to become college presidents.”

The Colgate chief of staff (Rodriguez-Farrar) and vice president (Jack) created their own data set utilizing public information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which analyzed 2,723 public, nonprofit private, and for-profit private four-year institutions. Their data found only 713 of those institutions are led by women, which is smaller than ACE’s study.

When Rodriguez-Farrar and Jack differentiated the data by gender, they found the prevailing trend that women presidents generally come from a limited number of academic roles. For example, more women (76.6%) came from an academic institution than men (69.7%) and of that amount, 39.1% of women presidents held academic roles compared to 33.1% of men. Moreover, more women (19.5%) presidents were chief academic officers beforehand than men (13.1%).

While the majority of both men and women come from academic institutions with academic backgrounds, the rising need for schools to leverage fundraising strategies to compensate for stagnating enrollment has led schools to hire presidents with different sets of skills. For example, recent president hires Greg King at Mount Union College (Alliance, Ohio) and Garry W. Jenkins at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine) were lauded for their strong record of fundraising.

Here are four steps to increasing viable female candidates, as provided by Rodriguez-Farrar and Jack:

  1. Look for unconscious bias in the backgrounds of your candidate pool
  2. Encourage women applicants
  3. Ask your search firm to think outside the box
  4. Highlight women leaders

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Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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