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Professional Opinion

Highly qualified women in higher ed line up to lead

Parity in higher ed relies on a commitment to developing a vast number of worthy candidates
University Business, June 2018
Cynthia Teniente-Matson is president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
Cynthia Teniente-Matson is president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

Academia continues to evolve for women aspiring to move into leadership positions. Once a career environment that offered few opportunities and minimal support for women’s leadership, the situation is improving for faculty and administrative positions, at colleges and universities, public and private, large and small.

In my own career path, I navigated through the university administrative and finance ranks, where approximately 30 percent of chief business officers are women in what was—and remains—a predominantly male profession.

Although women are making progress, it is slow, as approximately 30 percent of presidents, 43 percent of chief academic officers and 30 percent of full professors are women.  

Additionally, women are progressively outpacing men in earning advanced degrees. That means there are now quantitatively more capable, credentialed women in higher education to pursue professional opportunities and to help make our higher education system an even greater national resource.

Inclusive and progressive

Most campuses embrace a workforce that includes more women in decision-making roles. Many schools also seek out women from diverse professional and personal backgrounds.

How does this help women pursue more responsibilities and influential roles in the academy? With a greater number of women in the workforce, there are role models in leadership positions who can launch progressive conversations about coaching, mentorship and sponsorship.

I suggest that aspiring women seek guidance from trusted professionals to create a career roadmap. Mentors can help women set advancement goals, navigate campus politics and prepare for unexpected career opportunities.

At the same time, women should continually develop their leadership savvy, cultivate a leadership voice through on-campus professional development, and stretch assignments that can open the door to advancement.

Candidates for leadership positions should also be experts in their technical areas and viewed by others as strategic communicators, team players and strategic thinkers.

Campus leaders must provide opportunities for women to contribute and to create a collective presence through informal and formal networks that influence microcultures within the broader campus culture.

I happen to have a preponderance of women employed at my university. I highlight the successes of our female faculty, staff and students to spotlight visible role models for others in the community. I also sponsor women’s affinity groups, leadership lectures and campus events that provide learning opportunities for faculty, staff and students.

Higher ed leaders must also remain mindful of creating income parity and equitable opportunities—both vertically and horizontally—across the sector. We must remain diligent about comparable compensation and career mobility.

Seeking the best minds

Finally, higher education needs the kind of leaders who can create competitive advantages in teaching, learning, research and student support. As we embark into an era of artificial intelligence, driverless cars and machine learning, our best minds—women and men—are needed to innovate at an accelerated pace.

We must be relentless in our efforts to recruit, retain and prepare this next generation of leaders who will one day steer our campuses. We can start by identifying prospective candidates and providing them with institutional support and viable career paths to achieve their potential and to enhance parity in higher education leadership roles. 


Cynthia Teniente-Matson is president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio.