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Pelton Working to Advance Gender Parity in Higher Education

President Lee Pelton moderated a summit of 35 Massachusetts college and university presidents who are working to achieve gender parity among higher education leaders on Monday, November 4.

During the summit, held at the UMass Club in Boston, the second annual Women’s Power Gap (WPG) in Higher Education report was released, showing that while concrete progress toward gender parity in the sector has been made in recent years, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

“Colleges and university leaders have begun to set aspirational goals to achieve gender parity, committing resources, putting strategies into play, and empowering talent,” said Pelton, who chairs the WPG Presidential Advisory Committee. “The facts in the Women’s Power Gap report have prompted us all to take stock of where we are and to be honest with ourselves as we progress toward these goals.”

The study reveals that while women make up just 37 percent of the state’s higher education presidents, half of the 14 presidents appointed in 2019 were women. In addition, women make up more than half of all deans and provosts statewide, meaning the pipeline to the presidency is packed with qualified female candidates.

However, among the doctoral universities, women hold just 22 percent of the presidencies, and none of the 13 large university boards are chaired by women. Among the 10 highest paid presidents in the state, only one is a woman, and none of Massachusetts’ public state universities is headed by a woman – despite having five in the top spot a decade ago.

Despite the obstacles, it is possible for the higher education sector to become the first major industry in the state to achieve gender parity, said Andrea Silbert, president of the Eos Foundation and lead author of the study.

“The turnout of so many presidents [to the summit] shows that these leaders are committed to creating inclusive, diverse leadership and stand poised to publicly lead on this issue,” Silbert said.  

Emerson ranks among the top 25 of state colleges and universities in terms of percentage of women in leadership roles earning top salaries, according to the report, which was based on data from FY 2017, the most recent available. Six of the 10 highest paid Emerson administrators were women as of FY 2017.

Among 42 bachelor’s colleges and master’s universities, Emerson ranked 17 overall, when taking into account the makeup of the president, provost, senior leadership team, Board of Trustees, and salaries.

In April, Pelton testified at the Massachusetts State House in support of a bill that would require all companies with more than 100 employees to report the gender and racial profiles of employees in management positions.

H. 1660, An Act Promoting Pay Transparency and Pipeline Advancement also would require the Office of Labor and Workforce Development to establish a professional development fund available to employees of workplaces that do not meet state standards.

At the hearing, Pelton said of the bill:

“This is not just the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do. Diverse leadership benefits everyone. We know that organizations are more innovative, nimble, and better equipped to solve pressing problems when their leaders bring a multitude of backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences.

“By establishing a Pipeline Promotional Opportunities fund, this act will help employers provide professional development and coaching opportunities to advance women and talent of color into the highest ranks. To maintain and advance our competitive advantage in this global economy, Massachusetts must invest in promoting a diverse pipeline of leaders who will take our businesses and institutions to the next level of greatness. And when more women and people of color see themselves reflected in their leadership – when a world of opportunity that was previously invisible to them is made visible – the possibilities for what we can all achieve become limitless.”

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