Men vs. Women in International Education Leadership, Part I

Men vs. Women in International Education Leadership
Men vs. Women in International Education Leadership

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to hear a wonderful plenary speaker at the Forum on Education Abroad conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Linda Tarr-Whelan is a former Ambassador, Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow, and Director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. She speaks on a topic near and dear to my heart, the importance of women’s advancement to communities, companies, our country, and the world. For more information, I highly recommend her book Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World.

In 1960, Linda started her career as a nurse, only to be fired on the first day because she didn’t stand up when a male doctor entered the room. Like many women, she persevered. Linda was named by Ladies Home Journal as one of the 50 most powerful women in Washington. She has served as Administrative Director of the New York State Department of Labor, Policy Director for AFSCME, AFL-CIO, Government Relations Director and Chief Lobbyist for the National Education Association, President/CEO of the Center for Policy Alternatives, and Managing Partner of Tarr-Whelan & Associates, Inc.

After hearing Linda’s speech, I started thinking about my own career in International Education. Although the field is dominated by women, I had a sneaky suspicion that there were more men at the top. I was also interested in transformational leadership dynamics and how companies and universities with male leaders compare to those with female leaders. So, I created a survey which I sent to Secuss-L and AIEA, the primary professional listservs to which I subscribe. To my surprise, there were 227 responses (53.1% Public and Non-Profit, 33.6% Private and Non-Profit, and 13.3% Private and For Profit), from a variety of entities:

44.7% University – Doctoral
15.5% Liberal Arts College
14.2% University – Masters Level
9.7% International Education Association
7.1% Third-Party Provider
6.2% University – Bachelors Level
2.2% Community or Junior College
0.4% Agricultural, Technical, or Specialized College

Senior International Officers: Men and Women

After narrowing down the responses to one per entity, this survey revealed that 55% of Senior International Officers (SIOs) or top international positions were held by men and 45% were held by women. Note, this position may be a director position or even a coordinator position on some campuses where there is no official SIO. If no one person seemed to fit this model (multiple international areas and leaders), then the respondent was asked to choose the person/leader that is most involved in internationalizing the institution.

Highest Degree Obtained

After identifying whether their SIO was a man or woman, the respondents were asked to indicate the SIO’s terminal degree. A whopping 71.8% of all male SIOs held a doctoral or terminal degree, whereas only 57% of female SIOs had the same academic credentials. I have to admit, it surprised me to find a greater percentage of Master’s level women (38.5%), in senior international positions, than men (23.6%). SIOs with their highest degree at the Bachelor’s level were few and far between: men (4.5%) and women (4.4%).

Leadership Effectiveness

Next, the survey asked, “In your opinion (and there’s no way for us to trace this opinion to any person) how effective is this leader?” A greater percentage of women compared to men were perceived to be very effective and effective, while a greater percentage of men compared to women were perceived as somewhat effective. Seven percent of men were viewed as ineffective, while no women were perceived this way.

Very Effective: Men (30.7%) and Women (44.4%)
Effective: Men (33%) and Women (43.4%)
Somewhat Effective: Men (29.1%) and Women (12.1%)
Not Effective at all: Men (7%)

I also compared Highest Degree Obtained with Effectiveness, to see if there were any correlations. Again, I was surprised to find that 71% of Master’s level SIOs were viewed as highly effective, compared to just 55% of SIOs with terminal degrees.

Doctoral or Terminal Degree: Very Effective (55%), Effective (1%), Somewhat Effective (35.7%), and Not Effective at all (8.1%)
Master’s Degree: Very Effective (71%), Effective (0%), Somewhat Effective (26.3%), and Not Effective at all (2.6%)

Leadership Strengths and Descriptors

Words selected to describe SIOs with a response percentage above 70% (indicating common themes and threads):

Women – Competent, Dedicated, Global-Minded, and Intelligent
Men – Global-Minded

Words selected to describe SIOs with a response percentage below 30% (indicating 70% or more respondents chose NOT to select this descriptor for their SIO):

Women – Courageous, Magnanimous
Men – Courageous, Delegates well, Empathetic, Good Time Management, and Self Aware

Next week, I’ll summarize the responses to the last question of the survey,  “How has this leader made a difference at your company/institution?” I’ll also draw out the different approaches between SIO men and women, as they relate to perceived effectiveness.

Submitted by Wendy Williamson, Director of Study Abroad, Eastern Illinois University

Go to Part 2 of International Education Men vs. Women >>>

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9 thoughts on “Men vs. Women in International Education Leadership, Part I

  1. Thank you so much for this insightful work. As a provider founder, co-owner and co direct or of small companies and with 30 plus years in the field, I also had my suspictions, despite of our student enrollment being over 90% female over the years. A lot to think about, particularly on ways to advance women in leadership positions in the field.

  2. Thank you for sharing your survey results. I too am very interested in the topic of female leadership, particularly in our field of international higher education. I have always felt that a PhD should not be a requirement for the position and that a Masters plus solid professional experience was more important. It is interesting to see that more women in leadership roles have Masters degrees, probably because many have to care for their families as well as make their way up the professional ladder. Hopefully women with Masters and solid professional experience will get more opportunities to rise to the top and change the perception that men and PhDs own the SIO world.

  3. I hadn’t heard of Linda before but I will definitely go check out her book. It is great that women are speaking up and advancing in all aspects of life. It is to the benefit of all of us.

  4. Female leadership is still a topic that scares many men. Most of the time is hard for men to take orders from a woman – which they consider inferior and not able to handle the stress that a high position of leadership brings on. Linda’s book is a breath of fresh air to all women. Highly recommended!
    Thanks for the great post 🙂

  5. This is a great post, and it brings to light the discrepancy between men and women in leadership roles pretty much everywhere; the corporate world, politics, sports, you name it.

    Awareness is the first step in changing perceptions and antiquated perspectives. I will have to pick up Linda’s book.
    Thanks for he post.

  6. I agree with Evans that awareness is the first step in changing perceptions. We are after all living in the 21st century and women are not dominated by men anymore. Women can do pretty much anything men can, and this does not exclude assuming the leadership position.

  7. Thanks for the book recommendation. This is a subject that really interests me, I’ll definitely have to check it out.

  8. Thank you for this eye-opening discussion about men’s and women’s leadership roles. It’s still frustrating that women are struggling to be accepted as equal to men. I’m going to see if I can find “Women Lead the Way” at my local library. If not I’m sure its available on Amazon.

  9. This is very interesting information. There are many women in different positions in different corporations already but mostly the top positions are really dominated by men. Its really is about the awareness that women can do most things that men can and are even at times much more capable.

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