The more we get together, the better the career

To close out Women’s History Month, the Women’s Center hosted two speakers who discussed female leadership in higher education.

The first speaker, Tracy Barton, presented “A Feminist Construction of Leadership in American Higher Education.” She began researching the topic of feminists in higher education after a “few bad experiences” in graduate school.

“In general, the climate of higher education is still unfriendly towards women,” Barton said.

For her research, Barton studied leadership, feminism and women in leadership positions.

“My research fills the void,” Barton said. “Most studies aren’t in higher education and don’t study leadership, education and feminism together.”

She interviewed seven feminist academic administrators in colleges in the Midwest. Barton found that there were certain issues specific to feminist women in education. First, she found that feminist leaders had a level of transferability, which means that feminists lead with core values that can be transferred from setting to setting.

She also found that, for the most part, the women worried about being too hierarchical.

“Being too collaborative or not collaborative enough is a struggle for them,” Barton said.

Some of the women in the study said they felt silenced and weren’t given access to certain information. Additionally, some said they were technically high- up in the system, but still didn’t feel they had power.

The second speaker, Korine Steinke, presented “Madwoman, Queen and Alien-Being: The Experiences of First-Time Women Presidents at Small Private Colleges.”

Steinke conducted two interviews each with eight college presidents. She asked the women about how they arrived at their position, their experiences, their challenges and how they balance work life and home life.

Steinke found that there was no set path to the presidency that all of the women had in common, but that they wanted challenging, fulfilling roles.

“Women presidents very often take less traditional routes to get to the top,” Steinke said.

Most of the women stressed the importance of mentors.

“There needs to be more mentoring,” Steinke said. “Not just at the beginning, but throughout their careers.”

Concerning priorities, finding a balance between professional and personal obligations was very challenging for the women, Steinke said. Some women had a second home they used as a retreat or set aside certain times that were only for work or only for family.

“Many of the women talked about how having a partner made a world of difference,” Steinke said. Having a spouse helped with being president because they offered support and a sense of normalcy.

Additionally, most women didn’t think gender had much of an effect on the presidency.

“Gender does make a difference, but in a very subtle manner,” Steinke said.

Lisa Richmin, graduate student assistant, said the speakers were asked to present because the Women’s Center wanted to promote how to be a feminist leader. She said it is important to understand barriers and how to overcome them.

“It’s positive to see actual examples of women in academics,” Richmin said. “It has been a challenge, but it can be done.”