Women in Education Leadership: Boos and Cheers

Last week, we posted about the midterm elections and the historic gains for women, particularly those of color. We tempered our excitement by noting the fact that women still remain massively underrepresented in government positions of power. Today, we add to our cheers and boos with new information on the role of women in higher education and K-12 leadership.

Let’s start with some major boos. A New Report published by the Eos Foundation with research commissioned from the UMass Boston Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy took an in-depth look at higher education institutions in Massachusetts and who sits in the seats of power. It’s not pretty. Despite the fact that 51.5% of the population in Massachusetts are women, only 31% hold presidencies in the state’s institutions of higher ed. That is a power gap of 38%. No small potatoes.

Other key findings include:

  • 32 schools (34%) have never had a female president, and 26 have less than 30% women on their board of trustees. There are 14 schools with neither.
  • Massachusetts public universities have the lowest percentage of women presidents of all types of schools, public and private. In total, women lead only one of 15 state universities or just 7%.
  • Women of color lead only 5% of the 93 institutions in the study.
  • Only one of 17 large universities has a female board chair
  • Simmons College achieved the highest ranking, followed by Smith College, Emmanuel College, Wellesley College and Bay Path University. William James College ranked 93rd, tied with Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering and Boston College at the bottom of the rankings. Tufts University ranked 87th in the state, while Boston University ranked 82nd and UMass Amherst ranked 55th

It’s no surprise that the institutions with the greatest number of female leaders are private, women-only undergraduate schools, i.e. Simmons, Smith, and Wellesley. Emmanuel was previously a women’s college. These are institutions founded on the principal that women are capable of achievements equal to men. Cheers to them for being an example to others who need it, like the state’s public system!

At an event on Nov. 14 hosted by the Eos’s Women’s Power Gap Initiative (of which our very own Mom-in-Chief Keri Rodrigues is an active member), Eos Foundation President Andrea Silbert highlighted that the unacceptably low number of women in education leadership starts in K-12. She said, “There has never been a female leader of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Care, although women make up 75 percent of teachers. You’ve got Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, Commissioner of Early Education and Care Tom Weber, Elementary and Secondary Education and Care Jeff Riley and Commissioner Santiago. Not a woman in sight.”

We need to ask ourselves why this is the case and work together to remove the barriers for women in education leadership. A good start is taking heed of the recommendations in the Eos research report (LINK) and getting loud with our higher education institutions, K-12 leadership, and elected officials!

It’s Monday and we can only take so much bad news. So, let’s add a few cheers.

Cheers to the Women’s Power Gap initiative that aims to increase the number of women leaders across sectors in Massachusetts, commissioned the Eos study on power gaps, and will continue to explore these critical issues in an ongoing planned series of events.


Cheers to the GenderAvenger Massachussetts Campaign that complements the research from the Women’s Power Gap Initiative by providing an immediate way to move toward #GenderParityNow. GAMA allows the public to leverage a set of social media tools that help achieve gender parity at conferences, events, and in meetings. The online toolkit includes: (1) the GA Tally, (2) “Time Who’s Talking, and (3) the GenderAvenger Pledge, which asks prominent men to refuse to speak on public panels where women are not represented.

Cheers to donors, alumni, faculty and students from Tufts University, Boston University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst who have organized to petition their school’s administration for higher representation of women in positions of power. Don’t stop fighting the good fight until change happens! We can all take a page from this great work.

Ensuring that women and people of color are proportionately represented in positions of power is a no-brainer. Here at MPU, we will never stop fighting for that reality. We hope you will join us.


By Katelyn Silva

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