Women's Leadership in Connecting Choice and Action

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 (Around 6 years ago)

Now Available Online: On Campus with Women Vol. 37, No. 1

Women’s Leadership in Connecting Choice and Action

Despite women’s prominent successes in politics, academe, and business, the United States is facing what some might call a crisis in women’s leadership. In higher education, celebrated appointments like Drew Gilpin Faust’s are tempered by the fact that women presidents lead only 23 percent of American colleges and universities. In the even more publicly visible presidential contest, a break in the glass ceiling has revealed that the shards of sexism—and racism—are still sharp. Given the mixed messages these examples send, it’s no wonder that women shy away from leadership, particularly leadership characterized as “political.” No wonder, perhaps—but far from no loss.

When women decline to act as leaders, whether on campus or in the greater community, it’s a great loss indeed, both for themselves and for those who would benefit from their advocacy. Women’s underrepresentation in positions of leadership represents a sure sign of continued inequity. Moreover, although women are not necessarily better advocates than men, they bring new perspectives to leadership, informed in part by their experiences navigating the arctic political waters. The climate for women leaders is chilly, and weathering it requires a certain political finesse. Colleges and universities can encourage and develop this expertise among students, in part by warming the atmosphere for on-campus women leaders. By coupling warmer climates with pedagogical practices that encourage women to act as agents for civic change, colleges and universities can make a significant contribution toward equity in the world at large.

This issue of On Campus with Women parts the cloudy skies of campus and community politics to reveal the rays of promise for women’s leadership. As Krista Jenkins reminds us, young women’s political knowledge may lag behind young men’s, but their levels of civic engagement show relative promise. Meredith Reid Sarkees might consider this good news as she looks toward the future of women’s transformational leadership. Examining women’s roles closer to campus, Virginia Sapiro explores the “double binds” that continue to hinder women in positions of academic leadership, while Susan Henking suggests the potential of multicultural alliances to combat the tensions remaining between the terms “woman” and “leader.” And lest we forget, JoAnna Smith reminds us that if her campus is any indication, the future of women’s leadership looks brighter than we might have imagined.

Our authors both explore and exemplify the power of women’s leadership, when mobilized toward action and advocacy, to transform the greater political field in which women operate. As Meredith Reid Sarkees says, “America’s educational institutions, in combination with a wide array of other programs, have a responsibility to prepare a coterie of women leaders for transformational leadership.” We hope that this issue’s authors will lead us in that direction.

To read the full issue, visit www.aacu.org/ocww/volume37_1/index.cfm

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