Moving up the ranks of power in higher education has historically been a challenge for women in terms of unfair pay, inequality, and being overlooked for opportunities for promotion. To recognize and overcome the barriers that seem to hold some back, two professionals addressed these issues in the Roots of Knowledge Speaker Series to spread awareness.
The two speakers were Dr. Jessi Hill, an associate professor of psychology at UVU, and Dr. Nancy Hauck, an associate provost of Community & Global Engagement at Dixie State University. They addressed some of the challenges that women in education face as they enter the middle of their careers and introduced the Utah Women’s Leadership Exchange, a program that is combating those issues.
Hill began the event by engaging with the audience, asking them, “What comes to mind when I say the words “woman leader’?” Aside from well-known figures, many audience members listed their own mothers. Hill agreed with all of the answers, sharing her main answer — her mother and grandmother. Referencing the book, “Home Comforts” and other books by Cheryl Mendelson, she mentioned the wealth of knowledge within the pages. She noted how, in the past, mothers were required to know everything from cooking to first aid to algebra and geometry in order to properly fulfill their role as matriarchs.
“There is a descaling of essential and necessary knowledge women must know,” Hill said, as a result of continual advancements in printing and technology. Times are changing and it is much easier to have such crucial information at one’s fingertips. Thus, education rates for women are climbing. This leaves more opportunities for women to pursue college degrees.
“Today, more women lead in the workforce, but less so in Utah,” said Hill. She states that Utah has consistently placed last in the country for the equality of women. “There are low ratios of advanced degrees for women to men,” Hill said. Both Hauck and Hill believe that higher education can incite progress and be a catalyst for change.
The burning question is this: How can we develop a system of women leaders in higher education in the state of Utah? Hauck took the stage to explain a new program called Utah Women’s Leadership Exchange. Their goal is to address the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions at Utah System of Higher Education institutions.
Hauck explained, “[The program] provides opportunities for leadership development and professional mentorship so Utah women can advance to positions of greater responsibility and leadership within their institutions.” The program was founded in 2018 in a virtual setting but is pushing full steam ahead. This year’s cohort has 24 women employed throughout the state, selected by their educational institutions across Utah to be in this cohort. Utah Women’s Leadership Exchange pairs women with leadership mentors who can guide them with future projects and aid in their success.
With new initiatives to help women succeed in roles in higher education, this program works to introduce an increase in female presence at universities throughout the state.