Women in higher ed: The journey to leadership

Many women face a labyrinth of barriers on their path to leadership, said Dr. Ginnifer Cie’ Gee of the University of Texas San Antonio at an AACRAO Annual Meeting session.

These barriers, which are sometimes subtle, are:

  • Cultural (created through male-oriented versions)
  • Structural (based on construction of gender set up by society)
  • Internal  (made up of self doubt, guilt, extra stress, and fatigue from navigation)

Gee conducted research to learn how senior-level women in higher education navigated the path leadership positions, how their leadership identity is formed, and how they communicate their identity. She conducted in-depth interviews with four senior-level staff at large southern institutions. 

“It was cathartic because I don’t think this stuff gets talked about,” she said.

Overall, Gee found that there are infinite labyrinths with invisible paths, and that the agency for each woman is different. “You have to influence intentionally your circumstance,” she said. “You have to take charge. That takes courage, risk, and critical analysis of the situation.”

In addition, Gee noted that successful women leaders employ communication strategies and practice awareness in order to recognize when they are being silenced.  In addition, successful leaders realize their emotions are positive and support decisionmaking, and that critical thinking and sharing stories helps foster growth.  Finally, she emphasized the idea that women should be supportive, rather than competitive, with each other.

“Leadership is not a solo journey,” Gee said. “Supporting others is a huge part of it. Supporting and nurturing is a female characteristic. It’s also a leadership characteristic.”

View more from the session here.