College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

The Higher Education Conundrum

By Richard Whitmire — March 15, 2011 1 min read
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Great article in Inside Higher Education about women dominating undergraduate student populations (in most of the world) but men dominating university leadership posts -- and top leadership positions in business and government.

Some of this phenomenon is probably nothing more complicated than waiting for society to catch up to the higher education realities. Witness the climbing number of women in Congress and the studies showing that in major cities young women out earn their male counterparts. Other pieces involve gender differences in negotiating skills, as pointed out in the article. And women making different career decisions to accommodate child raising is another big player.

When researching Why Boys Fail I was intrigued why national feminist groups, especially the AAUW, never used the college gender imbalances to advance arguments for appointing more women to top campus leadership positions. Eventually, I concluded that groups such as the AAUW avoid raising the college imbalance issue because that would make it appear that women had “won” and therefore made their group irrelevant.

From the article:

Su-Mei Thompson, chief executive officer of the Women's Foundation of Hong Kong, described what she called "a paradox" for women here. Women make up 54 percent of higher education enrollments, and outperform men academically from elementary school through university level education. "But who runs Hong Kong?" she asked. "Not women." She said that in academe, women hold 14 percent of senior positions and not a single presidency or vice chancellorship. Men hold 82 percent of the seats in the governing council and all 21 spots on Hong Kong's top court. Women make up only 2 percent of CEO's in Hong Kong. Thompson said that, in Hong Kong, the success of women in higher education is cited as evidence that "the battle of the sexes is over" and only "personal choice" by women (the choice to stay home with children) leaves gaps in women's participation in society. "I am asked all the time why there isn't a men's foundation," she said. She said that when a study came out recently about Hong Kong's hospitals facing doctor shortages in some fields, the response of some in the public was to ask why medical school slots were given to women who might leave their careers to have children -- rather than asking about how jobs might be crafted to encourage such women to continue their careers.

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The opinions expressed in Why Boys Fail are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.