Women in Administration at UW

Also published in the FAUW Forum in May 2012.

On March 5, 2012, the Faculty Association’s Status of Women & Equity Committee hosted a panel featuring five women with experience in administration at Waterloo discussing their respective paths to administration, challenges they’ve faced along the way, and advice for women interested in pursuing administrative positions. The aim of the event was to facilitate an interest in and understanding of administrative positions amongst female faculty.

Panelists were: Susan Elliott (Dean of Applied Health Sciences), Carolyn Hansson (former VP, University Research), Sue Horton (Associate Provost, Graduate Studies), Daniela O’Neill (Associate Chair, Graduate Studies, Psychology), and Pearl Sullivan (Chair, MME and incoming Dean of Engineering).

There was a lot of valuable insight exchanged at the panel and reception afterwards, so for those who couldn’t make it to the event, here are some highlights.

Personal context

  • Many panelists were the first, only, or one of very few women in their department as graduate students and then as faculty, let alone as administrators, and thus have had few other women around to talk about these issues with.
  • Most of the panelists did not set out to pursue administrative positions.

Common challenges

  • Extra demands on women’s time due to the need to fill gender requirements on committees.
  • Difficulty finding time to maintain research work, often leading to doing this work during “free time”, including weekends and early morning hours.
  • Constantly being in the minority in many settings.
  • Differentiated and prejudicial treatment of women in leadership positions, such as being perceived as more “aggressive” than men when exhibiting the same behaviour, not being taken seriously, and facing assumptions about qualifications and reasons for being hired.
  • Difficulty finding time for parenting and other family and personal aspects of one’s life.

Advice for other women

Speaking in general about administrative positions, panelists stressed the importance of:

  • Being able to privilege others’ priorities and research over your own. Being able to give up some control over how you spend your time.
  • Taking on administrative roles in order to serve “a higher purpose” – to have goals for your time in the position and use it to make positive change.
  • Keeping a hand in research throughout your admin career, and also teaching if possible.

Advice for dealing with challenges specific to women or for coping with the demands of administrative positions included:

  • Having other women to talk to (i.e., having mentors and being a mentor to other women).
  • The importance of recognizing talent in other women, supporting them, and nominating them for positions and opportunities (i.e., being a sponsor for other women).
  • Asking for what you need, and recognizing that people simply may not have thought to offer it.
  • Not being afraid to stand up for yourself, call people out on their unfair treatment, and demand respect.
  • Seeking out training opportunities (such as those provided by SWAAC – Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada) and books on related topics (“Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever was recommended by one panelist).
  • Not taking “no” too hard and learning to say “no” yourself  – and only saying “yes” to activities that benefit you.
  • Not waiting to have children because you think there will be a “better time” later.
  • Having a healthy, positive outlet, e.g., leisure pursuits.
  • Identifying and prioritizing the things that are really important to you.

Feedback from attendees

We’ve heard a lot of positive, appreciative feedback, as well as suggestions to start a mentoring program on campus, a request for a similar event on women in academia in general, a desire for more advice on achieving work-life balance, and a proposal that we all need to think more about “changing institutional expectations rather than adapting to the existing [and unrealistically demanding] structure”. These last two points speak to the significance of work-life balance challenges for all faculty, something currently being explored by the Working Group on Work-Life Balance, a joint effort of FAUW and the Provost’s office.