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Women’s History Month: Record-Breaking Number of Women Leaders in Higher Education

Mar 11, 2022

According to Times Higher Education World University Rankings data, “Forty-three – or 21 percent – of the top 200 universities in the latest 2022 ranking have a female leader.” This is an increase from 41 universities in 2021 and 34 in 2018.

Ellie Bothwell of Times Higher Education summarizes some of the most important data on the World University Top 200 Rankings, as ranked by Times Higher Education. According to Bothwell, the United States has seen the largest increase in the number of universities led by women this year. Germany and Switzerland, on the other hand, have seen a drop in universities with female leaders. Of the 27 countries and regions in the top 200 list, 13 have no female leaders at all.

The current number one institution on THE World University Rank 2022, University of Oxford, is led by Louise Richardson. Carol Christ leads the number eight institution, University of California, Berkeley. Three Ivy League universities also have women leaders: University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and Brown University. You can find the full list of top 10 universities led by women here and a profile of each woman here.

Bothwell explains that “the list of the world’s top 10 universities led by women is likely to look quite different next year, as half of this year’s cohort have announced that their current leader is due to leave.”

M. Cristina Alcalde and Mangala Subramaniam of Inside Higher Ed write that “even in top positions, women face challenges within institutional structures, systems and mind-sets that require transformative change.” As of 2020, women and minority administrators “still face[d] significant pay and seniority disparities, especially within executive leadership roles” reported Emma Whitford of Inside Higher Ed.

Alcalde and Subramaniam were selected to be members of the 2020 cohort of the HERS (Higher Education Resource Services) Leadership Institute, where they had the chance to meet with other women leaders and discuss experiences in academic leadership positions. Founded in 1972, HERS “is a leadership development and research organization that is dedicated to creating and sustaining a diverse network of woman-identified leaders in higher education.” HERS aims to “ensure greater diversity and equality in university and college leadership moving forward.” This program is a great resource to help women navigate their leadership roles in a still predominantly male field.

Alcalde and Subramaniam write that they have identified “systemic obstacles to women’s (especially women of color) leadership advancement in higher education.“ The approach to women’s leadership should be rethought, they argue; “it is time we… recognize women leaders as intentional, strategic, intelligent, deliberate, goal-driven, focused, accomplished, successful, ambitious and visionary.”

While there is now a record-breaking number of women leading top universities, the number itself is still low. Only one in five top institutions is led by women. There is still much progress that needs to be made in the representation of women in the higher education field.

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