By Emily Kestel

Photo by Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons.

The University of Iowa was recognized as a national leader in gender representation in leadership in a January 2022 study by the Eos Foundation. 

The study, called “The Women’s Power Gap at Elite Universities: Scaling the Ivory Tower,” examines the 130 public and private universities across the U.S that are ranked by the Carnegie Classification as having the highest level of research activity. 

The study ranked the institutions by awarding points in three categories: having a woman as president or chancellor, having a woman as provost, and the percentages of women who are academic deans, serve on the president’s cabinet and are tenured professors. 

The points were weighted – 20 points for a current woman president, 10 points for each past woman president, 10 points for a current woman provost, 0.5 point for every 1% of women who are academic deans or tenured full professors and 0.1 point for every 1% of women who are on the presidents’ cabinet. 

Once the institutions were ranked, the study placed them into categories indicating how well they’re doing in working toward women’s representation in university leadership. Universities that received 72 or more points were given the “leader” distinction. Those that scored between 62 and 71 were “almost there,” those between 40 and 61 points were given the “work to do” distinction, and those that scored below 40 points were given the category of “needs urgent action.” 

Scoring 84.8 points, the University of Iowa ranked No. 4, behind the University of California-Santa Cruz, the City University of New York Graduate School and the University of New Hampshire. UI is led by President Barbara Wilson and has had two women previously serve as president – Sally Kay Mason from 2007 to 2015 and Mary Sue Coleman from 1995 to 2002. UI does not have a woman provost. 

According to the study, 58% of academic deans at UI are women, 36% of Wilson’s cabinet are women and 24% of tenured full professors are women. 

“The University of Iowa has had a long, proud history of elevating the role of women, stretching back to its earliest days,” Wilson said in a release. “I am excited to see women at this university develop into our next leaders, and I hope to serve as a role model as their university’s president.”

Iowa State University was also listed in the study with 51.5 points. ISU ranked No. 63 and was placed in the “work to do” category. Wendy Wintersteen currently serves as ISU’s first woman president. According to the study, 25% of the academic deans, 71% of Wintersteen’s cabinet and 24% of the tenured full professors at ISU are women. 

Overall, women make up 22% of presidents, 38% of provosts, 39% of deans, 43% of presidents’ cabinets and 27% of tenured full professors at the 130 institutions featured in the report. Women of color make up 5% of presidents, 6% of provosts, 8% of deans, 13% of cabinet positions and 6% of tenured full professors. 

The study also examined gender representation among governing and oversight boards, though only 38% of the universities featured provided data. Nine boards have reached gender parity – including the Iowa Board of Regents – while 44 institutions have less than 30% women. 

The study’s authors insisted that the gap in representation is not due to a pipeline issue, but instead due to barriers such as the glass cliff and systemic bias. 

“Since the 1970s, women have outnumbered men on college campuses, and for more than a decade, they have received the majority of PhDs. Women of color represent the fastest growing segment of the college population in the United States,” the study’s call to action said. “Yet, scan the faces of those who wield power at our most prestigious universities, and you’re still likely to see the all-too-familiar image of another white man.” 

The study provided several recommendations and solutions, which include: 
  • Boards and presidents should make long-term public commitments to reach equitable representation in leadership roles, then create annual benchmarks and public reports on progress.
  • Select candidates who have experience in promoting systemic change around diversity, equity and inclusion. 
  • Work to eliminate bias in processes and procedures, including those around hiring, advancement and retention. 
  • Alumni, community members, students and donors should demand transparency and accountability from university leadership. 
  • Federal, state and local governments should require all institutions that receive grants or contracts from an agency to publicly report leadership data and progress. 

“Bold systemic change is needed to combat the gender and racial power gaps embedded within our elite universities,” the study said. “These institutions have outsized power and should use it to create new models of doing business that challenge the status quo instead of reinforcing it.” 

Other facts from the study
  • Women earn 55% of all Ph.D.s. 
  • Women of color who serve as presidents are lacking – of the 130 universities examined, only six women of color are presidents. Two are Asian, two are Black and two are Hispanic. 
  • Six universities have had at least three women presidents – UC-Santa Cruz, CUNY Graduate School, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Iowa, University of New Hampshire and University of Wisconsin-Madison. 
  • Sixty schools have had no women presidents. 
Categories: Leadership