Does Female Leadership Make a Difference?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal mentioned a trend that is occurring at some business schools across the country: giving preference to women over men to fill college dean slots.

The question asked in the article is: Does hiring women in these positions introduce more diverse opinions into the high-level decision-making process?

In my opinion, diversity – whether it’s gender, color, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. – enhances decision-making and often allows a broad range of perspectives to be considered.

Let’s face the facts. There is a dearth of women (and people of color) in many senior leadership positions across the board.  Recent statistics released by Catalyst in October 2011 “U.S. Women in Business,” found that the percentage of female Fortune 500 board seats is 14.8%; the percentage of female Fortune 500 CEOs is 2.4%.

So, comparatively, the article on women business school deans paints a somewhat rosier picture, with women at 18% in 2011-12!  At a very basic level, having women or people of color in leadership positions provides examples for others, who can then tell themselves, “If she did it, so can I.”  Other advantages include different leadership and decision-making styles.

Not surprisingly, the most common path to a college presidency is a previous dean position. As a former dean at two different colleges, this was true in my case.  For both of the dean positions that I held, I found that to move into leadership, I needed to focus on data and information that demonstrated positive trends on student enrollment growth, curricular innovation examples, and student retention results.

No matter what the field of endeavor, ultimately, women who hope to succeed in leadership positions need to be willing to take risks, focus on results, and prove they can do the job successfully all while bringing their unique perspective to the position.

In order for us to see future business leaders in positions of power, it is important for students to see qualified women in positions of leadership in all areas of their lives – from K-12 principals, to college-level administrators, to women in positions of authority in their organizations. If this happens, then the leadership opportunities for women should improve.

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