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Voices of the Global Community


Alice G. Reinarz, Advising Administrators Commission Chair

Unlike our grandmothers, most women currently in administrative roles were reared with a social message that 'you can do anything you want.' While that message has brought many exciting opportunities, many women have found that the unpredictable challenges can outweigh the opportunity. This is particularly true if one is 'the first woman' or 'the only woman' in a particular role. Therefore, it becomes essential that women in administration be active mentors to others in our community.

Women are painfully aware of the impact of gender in positions of power. Even though most administrators (both men and women) are aware of the pitfalls in gender labeling, there are many examples of differences. For instance, a strong assertive male leader is respectfully known as the 'boss,' a woman with those same traits may be described with an altogether different label.

Among the challenges often mentioned for the woman administrator (particularly a novice), we might include:

  • understanding the unwritten 'rules' of the academic/campus culture
  • developing her communication skillslearning to use power and advocate for resources
  • grasping budget information and financial consequences of decisions.

There are additional dilemmas that particularly complicate roles for women leaders.

  • Balancing work and family. While family responsibilities influence the careers of all parents, women (particularly those with newborns and preschoolers) may have disproportionate work in care of children/home.
  • Taking work too seriously. Depending on personal style, this tendency may create problems for anyone. But it is possible that criticism directed at a woman leader may take a more personal tone than that for a man.
  • Difficulty finding a mentor. Particularly at the beginning of a new assignment, the administrator needs the guidance of a seasoned role model. Volumes have been written and spoken on the necessity of mentoring. We have all seen examples in which the lack of an appropriate mentor has had significant negative consequences.
  • Too little representation of women in administrative ranks. Depending upon the role and institution, a woman administrator may be one of such a small group that all her actions are scrutinized more than those of her male colleagues. In these cases a woman in administration may have no trusted person in whom to confide for the purpose of venting frustration.

Women in administration must seek out resources in a paradoxical environment. Trained in an academic discipline, our first natural inclination would be to learn by researching the topic. But there is a problem. While there is a wealth of leadership literature with parts tailored to women, there are few sources that address these issues for women in higher education administration, and virtually nothing specific to academic advising.

By focusing on concerns that may be unique to gender, there is no intent to oversimplify. Further, there are circumstances in which many factors like race and ethnicity, religious choice, and sexual preference may affect the work environment for the administrator. Whatever the concern, the solutions can be the same. Colleagues provide these suggestions:

  • Write down your personal and professional priorities. Review these periodically to remind yourself of what is truly important.
  • Be diligent finding mentor(s). Don't limit your search only to someone like yourself or only to others in your field. Identify one or two trusted confidants on your campus (who may or may not be personal friends) that can serve as a sounding board.
  • Hook into a network for advice beyond your campus. In developing your network consider the resources NACADA makes available to support those who share our core values and common goals. These include:
    • Presentations and workshops at national and regional meetings, as well as state drive-in conferences. These provide a chance to share information, build self-confidence and find rejuvenation.
    • The new Academic Advising Administrators' Institute
    • Contacts made through sessions at the Summer Institute
    • Conversations within the NACADA Advising Administrators Commission and listserv that provide opportunities for administrators to link for networking and resource suggestions. Consider joining the commission listserv.
  • Explore opportunities available through organizations, such as Leadership America, that are devoted to enhancing the knowledge base and confidence of its women members. Additionally check out training programs offered through graduate schools of higher education as well as one-on-one skill development sessions with independent consultants, although this option can be expensive but quite helpful.

To specifically assist women advising administrators in finding more information and guidance, we are developing a list of helpful leadership literature from both the popular press and scholarly references. The beginnings of this list are available on the NACADA web site through a link in the posting of this article within the Advising Resources of the Clearinghouse for Academic Advising. We need women administrators to suggest materials that have been useful in addressing these concerns. Send reference information to [email protected].

Understanding the needs of advising administrators is multifaceted. While the challenges faced by women administrators can be unique, the methods of addressing these challenges are not. Exploring a variety of support opportunities can help all administrators find workable solutions.

Alice G. Reinarz
University of Michigan

Cite this article using APA style as: Reinarz, A. (2002, December). Women's issues in higher education administration. Academic Advising Today, 25(4). [insert url here]


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