Critical Moments in History; Women’s Leadership is the Answer

This Fourth of July weekend was filled with “new takes” on long standing traditions in our country.  In my case it meant sticking closer to home instead of being at the lake with extended family. This year I attended a smaller and social-distant picnic in a backyard instead of going to a large public gathering to view fireworks.  Everyone I spoke to on the Fourth missed the way our old holiday habits were no longer appropriate.  They acknowledged we must adapt to stay safe and to keep those around us healthy, too.

This change in our traditional holiday celebration is very much like what is also happening in educational workplaces across the country.  We might not be happy with the changes but to stay relevant and viable and to keep everyone healthy, the ways we deliver education to our students in higher education must change!   

Virtual delivery is inevitable given the rate of change in technology over the past years.  Distance education has been available for a number of years for teaching faculty, however, many felt more comfortable in the classroom and turned down opportunities to learn and teach in the virtual world.  Now most educators are using the technology to keep education alive.

As I write this, faculty and administrators in both public and private colleges are engaged in reallocating what remains of financial support monies.  They are required to keep schools open, but with significantly reduced resources and many new expenses related to health concerns.  Many are now locked into turf battles about what programs should be kept and what services can be reduced or stopped since they are not revenue generators. Tensions are high. Looking long term about what disciplines, licenses and certifications are critical for future workplaces is not easy even in the best of times.

This is a time for new ideas.  We need different perspectives from diverse thinking leaders, and we need them now! It is a time for creative problem solving, reviving a team mentality with our colleagues and communities as true partners, and embracing new solutions.  New leadership is required!  Women can do this on every campus. I suggest and am hopeful that now is the time for more women to step firmly forward to pursue the solutions. More women must become the emerging leaders that will revive and rework the way we deliver education in this country for everyone.  Raise your hand and request a seat at the table.

This is also the time that the current leaders in higher education really need to begin to “walk their talk” and seek out and embrace diverse candidates for new assignments. Get new talent to the table to solve the problems facing all institutions instead of just talking about this.   Statistics continue to show women are still not proportionally represented at the decision-making tables in higher education or business settings.  As someone who helped eight women become presidents, I know there remains a bias against women as capable leaders. I have seen years of university search committees continue to look for people like themselves.

In a recent meeting with a senior male executive he was adamant that leaders are born with the genetic qualities that make them successful leaders.  I argued that during their careers people learn to use their strengths and can “develop” into a future leader. It is an old argument, but it was the first time I was personally confronted by a person of influence and different gender who said out loud that women were not “suitable as leaders.” 

We need different types of leaders to solve the scope of the problems facing higher education.  We are missing some of the most talented experienced problem solvers available to us by not utilizing the leadership capacity of women on our campuses to the fullest extent.  For years I have been contacted by many mid-career women available and interested in taking on new challenges at their current campus instead of looking elsewhere and relocating.  Institutions need to reach out to more of their current talent to solve the crisis facing us today in education.

Throughout the past six months I have tried to remember all we have to be grateful for as an American; instead of falling into a malaise about what is happening to our higher education systems.  Here’s one solution: there are people currently working on every campus that have different ideas.  Their diverse perspectives of the work and their untapped talent can help us see outside of our traditional ways of teaching and learning. There are many potential women leaders waiting to be asked for their opinion and with years of experience on your campus.  Most of these women are great at multi-tasking.  They can make decisions, adapt, and tell the hard truths and they have the relationship skills to manage and influence others. It is time now to work differently to find timely solutions for students, families, and the educational enterprise.

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