ERIC Identifier: ED400025
Publication Date: 1996-10-00
Author: Getskow, Veronica
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Women in Community College Leadership Roles. ERIC Digest.
Women currently hold nearly 16% of the chief executive officer positions
(CEO) at 453 colleges and universities in the United States. This represents a
sizable increase over the last two decades; in 1975, women held only 5% of CEO
positions. At community colleges, the data are less clear, but it would appear
that women have gained slightly more ground, now comprising approximately 20% of
all CEOs of two-year accredited institutions (American Council on Education,
This Digest reviews some of the current literature on the status of women
holding administrative positions in community colleges, their styles of
leadership, and the ways in which they can promote future opportunities for
women in their institutions.
WOMEN'S RISE TO THE PRESIDENCY
According to Vaughan (1989),
the single most important source from which new community college presidential
candidates can be selected is the pool of deans of instruction. Since 21% of
current academic deans are women, it seems likely that the number of women
presidents may continue to increase as more rise from these ranks. From a survey
of 58 female community college presidents, Vaughan reports that key role models
and mentors are major influences for women seeking leadership positions.
RESEARCH ON WOMEN'S STYLES OF LEADERSHIP
There is evidence
that the way in which college presidents approach leadership issues is rapidly
changing. Vaughan (1986) notes that images of community college presidents have
undergone a dramatic metamorphosis over the last thirty years, keeping pace with
the changes the colleges themselves have made. Familiar leadership styles have
evolved from the stern, "take charge" images often associated with male leaders.
Vaughan's work in 1986 and 1989 suggests that each new generation of community
college presidents has moved closer to an approach emphasizing participatory and
shared decision-making. Baker (1992) notes a paradigm shift in leadership style
for the 21st century that views leading and managing as a holistic, inclusive
process, rather than one in which a single leader's viewpoint dominates.
The approach described by Baker is evidenced in studies of women in
leadership roles. Judith Rosener's 1990 business and management study of female
and male executives with similar backgrounds concluded that women tend to manage
in different ways than do men. Female executives were found to be more
interested in transforming people's self interest into organizational goals by
encouraging feelings of individual self-worth, active participation, and sharing
of power and information. On the other hand, she found that men tend to lead
through a series of what she identifies as "transactions," concrete exchanges
which involved rewarding employees for a job well done and punishing them for an
inadequate job performance.
In the context of the issues and trends that shaped the women's movement,
Astin and Leland (1991) look at leadership development as a "process of
empowerment." Their analysis, based on interviews with 75 women representing
three generations, focused on women leaders who demonstrated passionate
commitment, believed in involving others in the leadership process, and
possessed keen self-awareness and interpersonal communication skills.
Megatrends for Women, published in 1992, supports and expands the concept of
a unique leadership style more prevalent among women. Aburdene and Naisbitt
(1992) coined the term "women leadership" to describe what they consider to be a
personality that reflected women's values and leadership behavioral
characteristics. These researchers identified 25 behaviors that characterized
women's leadership and clustered them into six central patterns identified as:
behaviors that empower, restructure, teach, provide role models, encourage
openness, and stimulate questioning.
Two researchers studying leadership in the community college setting are
Rosemary Gillett-Karam and Sandra Acebo. Gillett-Karam (1994) frames leadership
in four ways: (1) taking appropriate risks to bring about change, a "vision"
behavior; (2) providing caring and respect for individual differences, a
"people" behavior; (3) acting collaboratively, an "influence" behavior; and (4)
building trust and openness, a "values" behavior. Gillett-Karam's work on
behavioral characteristics of leaders revealed that effective leadership is more
behaviorally derived than gender based, and that leadership is subject to the
dynamics and interactions of people and institutions. In Gillett-Karam's view,
leadership depends on situations, not gender. Acebo (1994) has a slightly
different perspective, viewing the community college leader as a team leader.
Acebo encourages community college leaders to bring shared leadership and
accountability into focus within their organizations. She compares and contrasts
established leadership models in her work but argues that efforts to create
dynamic teams with "synergy," a form of group energy, is part of the paradigm
shift taking place in leadership styles.
Another work promoting teamwork as a viable leadership model for community
colleges is Bensimon and Neumann's (1996) look at concepts of leadership in
Redesigning College Leadership: Teams and Teamwork in Higher Education. George
Baker (1995) provides a wealth of information on the team-building process in
Team Building for Quality: Transition in the American Community College.
Teamwork and its application to higher education is also discussed extensively
in the Fall 1994 issue of New Directions for Higher Education, No. 87,
Developing Administrative Excellence: Creating a Culture of Leadership.
As more women join the ranks of community
college presidents, their power base for creating change will grow. Women
community college presidents are in a position to contribute fresh perspectives
on leadership within their institutions and in society as a whole. DiCroce
(1995) and Vaughan (1989) suggest ways in which women leaders can influence the
culture of the community college and improve future opportunities for women:
1. Encourage elimination of institutional gender stereotypes: As more women
become community college presidents, their presence will help chip away at
gender barriers and "double standards" that may exist at their institutions.
2. Redefine power and the power structure of the institution: Women
presidents are well positioned to model and create a power structure built less
on hierarchy and more on relations, with a free exchange of information and an
open environment for collegial debate and discussion.
3. Enact gender-related policies and procedures: Women community college
presidents are uniquely situated to promote diversity and enforce strong
policies on sexual assault and harassment.
4. Raise collegial consciousness and initiate collegial dialogue on gender
and related issues: Women leaders can advocate and promote focus groups, brown
bag lunches, discussion sessions, and guest speakers on campus to bring updated
information to the college community.
5. Take a proactive stance on public policy and debate beyond the local
campus: The community college president has an opportunity to mingle and network
with a varied population of peers, researchers, legislators, and professional
associations and continue advocacy efforts for women in the regional, state, and
As researchers continue to expand studies on
women presidents in community colleges and their leadership styles, a picture of
the depth and breadth of the impact women are making at this educational level
will emerge. One thing is clear--women's voices are becoming more influential in
the community college.
Aburdene, P. and Naisbitt, J. Megatrends for
Women. New York: Villard Books, 1992.
Acebo, Sandra, "A Paradigm Shift to Team Leadership in the Community
College." In G. Baker (ed.), Handbook on the Community College in America: Its
History, Mission, and Management. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1994.
American Council on Education. Women Presidents in U.S. Colleges and
Universities. Washington, DC: Office of Women in Higher Education, 1995.
Astin, H. and Leland, C. Women of Influence, Women of Vision. San Francisco:
Baker, George (ed.) Handbook on the Community College in America: Its
History, Mission, and Management. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Baker, George (ed.) Cultural Leadership: Inside America's Community College.
Washington DC: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, 1992.
Bensimon, Estela and Anna Neumann. Redesigning Collegiate Leadership: Teams
and Teamwork in Higher Education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
DiCroce, Deborah "Women and the Community College Presidency: Challenges and
Possibilities." In B.K. Townsend (ed.), Gender and Power in the Community
College. New Directions for Community Colleges, no. 89. San Francisco:
Rosener, Judy B. "Ways Women Lead." Harvard Business Review, Nov.-Dec. 1990,
Vaughan, George. The Community College Presidency. New York: American Council
on Education/Macmillan, 1986.
Vaughan, George. Leadership in Transition: The Community College Presidency.
Macmillan Series on Higher Education. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company,
Vaughan, George (1989) "Female Community College Presidents." Community
College Review, 1989, 17(2), 20-24.