Significant gender gap persists in University leadership positions

Jordan Rudner

Five years ago, a study revealed that female faculty were less likely to have served in leadership positions at UT and more likely to wish they had been asked to serve. Today, little has changed. Of the 17 dean positions at the University, only four are held by women. 

As women comprise less than a quarter of the dean positions, they are also underrepresented as department chairs and directors of UT’s various schools and centers. Of the 90 chair positions listed on the website for the Office of the Provost, 25 are filled by women — only about 28 percent.

A comprehensive 2008 report commissioned by Steven Leslie, executive vice provost and vice president, examined the status of gender equity at the University and identified a leadership gap as one of the key issues barring achievement of said equity. 

“Department chairs matter because they can provide discretionary resources for faculty, they are influential in hiring, salary and promotion decisions, and because serving as department chair is often a stepping stone to higher administrative positions, such as dean,” the report stated. 

It also concluded that women were less likely to have been asked to serve in leadership positions. Study co-author Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance and government professor, said these issues are still prevalent. 

“Representation issues at the senior leadership level are still important,” Ritter said. “There is a lot of work that remains to be done.” 

Hillary Hart, a civil architecture and environmental engineering lecturer who served on the task force that produced the 2008 report, said she initially thought an increased presence of women faculty members would be enough to significantly promote equity, even if those women were not in leadership positions. 

“I keep thinking because there are more women in other departments, it must be easier. There must be more consciousness of what women go through and what they need,” Hart said, “but really, I’m not always so sure that’s really true.”

Beyond the effect gender inequity has on faculty members, Ritter said female students also suffer adverse consequences when women are not represented in leadership positions.

“This has a huge impact on students,” Ritter said. “It impacts students’ ability to imagine themselves, and to imagine women generally, in different fields.”

Ritter said visibility is also crucial.

“I often hear from women students that they started out with a real sort of passion or interest in an area but got discouraged because they never saw anyone like them who had succeeded,” Ritter said. “For male students, I think being able to imagine that they are in a field open to talent from all places is an important thing as well.”