The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Snapshot: Women and People of Color in Higher Ed Leadership

cameraThere’s been talk for several years now around the importance of increasing diversity in the top ranks (and the leadership pipeline leading to those executive positions) in colleges and universities. But is all that talk translating into action?

Data from CUPA-HR’s Administrators in Higher Education Salary Survey show that women are faring better than people of color in moving up the ladder. In 1981, the first year CUPA-HR began collecting data on race and gender, women comprised only 7.3% of incumbents serving as chief executive officer/president of an institution. In 2013, 26% of CEOs were women. The percentage of women serving as chief academic officer has nearly quadrupled over the past three decades (from 10.7% in 1981 to 39.7% in 2013). And women have made remarkable strides in human resources — in the 1981 survey, 30% of the incumbents serving as chief HR officer were women; by 2013, that number had jumped to nearly 71%.

On the flip side, higher ed (like much of the work world) still has a way to go when it comes to people of color in executive-level positions. In 1981, 5.8% of incumbents in the CEO role were people of color; in the 30 years since, that number has increased only slightly, to 8.8%. The numbers are almost identical for chief academic officers (5.5% of incumbents in this position in 1981 were people of color; in 2013, the percentage was 8.6%). People of color have fared somewhat better in HR leadership — in 2013, 16.9% of incumbents in the CHRO position were people of color, compared to 8.8% percent in 1981.

Diversity is vital to the excellence of our higher education institutions. Although we have made progress in gender and race diversity in higher ed leadership over the past few decades, we have more work to do.

How does your college or university measure up? Are the numbers of women and people of color in leadership positions at your institution consistent with what our data show? How can you support greater diversity in the leadership pipeline at your institution?

For an interesting read on how times have changed for women working in higher ed HR, check out the article “Blazing a Trail: Women Who Paved the Way in Higher Ed HR” from the Winter 2013-14 issue of  CUPA-HR’s The Higher Education Workplace magazine. And for a female perspective on climbing the career ladder in higher ed, order CUPA-HR’s book, Cracking the Wall 20 Years Later: Women in Higher Education Leadership, in which 17 women leaders in academia share their perspectives on their career paths and experience as transformational leaders. Need practical resources? Check out CUPA-HR’s resources for diversity and inclusion.