Women as senior research administration managers.

Author:Slocum, J. Michael
Position:Voice of Experience



In a recent research report, Carter and Silva (2010a) write:

When women get the right education, the right training, the right work experience, and the right aspirations--to succeed at the highest levels of business--then we'll see parity. So goes the refrain justifying why more women aren't well-represented at the helm of global companies, in boardrooms, and in C-suites. The premise of the promise is that the pipeline for women into senior leadership is robust. After all, over the past 15 years, women have been graduating with advanced professional degrees in record numbers often equal to or even surpassing the rates for men, (1) swelling women's representation in managerial ranks. Concurrently, companies implemented diversity and inclusion programs to eliminate structural biases and foster women's full participation in leadership. However, the authors continue:

Given these accomplishments, who would question whether the pipeline for women to senior leadership is lacking? While women represent just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, (2) 15 percent of board directors at those companies, (3) and less than 14 percent of corporate executives at top publicly-traded companies around the world, (4) overall they represent 40 percent of global workforces, with growth in some parts of the world projected to reach double digits. (5) Surely, with this vigorous pipeline and the competitive focus on talent, women are poised to make rapid gains to the top. If only that were true. 6 The Society of Research Administrators has enjoyed a long history of leadership by talented women who have achieved success in their own organizations and in various fields of science and management. One of the first persons I met when I was introduced to the Society was Joanne Treat, president of the Texas A&M Research Foundation. In the many years since meeting Joanne, I have had the pleasure to work with many other accomplished women in research and research administration, from Vice Presidents and Provosts to Chief Grants Management Officers, Legal Counsel, Executive Directors and Chief Executive Officers. My perception has been that individual women have achieved great success in research administration. Carter and Silva, however, have found a different experience. In an article in the Harvard Business review (2010b), they report:

... that among graduates of elite MBA programs around the world the high potentials on whom companies are counting to navigate the turbulent global economy over the next decade women continue to lag men at every single career stage, right from their first professional jobs. Reports of progress in advancement, compensation, and career satisfaction are at best overstated, at worst just plain wrong. It's especially disconcerting that, after a decade of aggressive efforts to create opportunities for women, inequity remains entrenched. In light of these conflicting data, I decided to ask several senior research managers, who happen to be women, to discuss their own experience and perceptions concerning the future for women in research administration and management.



What is your perception concerning the future for women at various stages of their careers in research administration, particularly since many senior women of the "baby boomer" cohort are beginning to consider retirement? Has there been progress? Is that progress accelerating or are there continuing material obstacles such as those found by Carter and Silva?

Lynne Chronister:

I disagree with the premise. Research Administration (RA) is one area where women have been able to excel. We have overcome a lot of the biases and have a majority of both RA positions and leadership roles in pre- and post-award, and compliance. This is spreading not just to the grant life cycle professions but also into the Vice President/Vice Chancellor (VP/ VC) research.

I believe it is a mistake to transfer the findings of Carter and Silva to the profession of research administration. In 1984, when I attended my first professional meeting in the field of research administration, I was one of only five women out of slightly more than 100 attendees. If I attended that same meeting in 2010, the numbers would be greatly skewed toward women. In the past 25 years the profession has attracted women in great numbers. I think it is a reflection of a number of factors: more women in the workplace, the many "nurturing components" that RA brings to the core functions, and the growth of RA into a legitimate profession. Initially most of the leaders were reformed faculty who traded the classroom for the office down the hall. Support staff personnel were either accountants (men) or secretaries. As the need grew for more staffing to support the business of research administration and management, more and more women entered the field as research administrators, not just clerical support. For many years the profession was weighed very heavily toward female dominance in the mid- and lower-management levels. Now I believe an accurate survey would show that women are in the majority of leadership positions with concomitantly respectable salaries. This trend is contradictory to the findings in industry.

Marcia Landen:

I think research administration has fared better than corporate America in promoting women into senior-level positions. Still, from where I sit, most of the people below me are women, and most of those above are men. But I will say that it's the men sitting on top of the local food chain who have given enormous and unprecedented opportunities to me and to other women research administrators at my university. That could be due to a generational change at that level. Not that I didn't learn an awful lot from the previous leadership, but I suspect that opportunities might have been more limited.

Pam Miller:

I think the future of women in research administration is very promising. Over time women have achieved parity with men in numbers and position levels within the field, and this provides younger women with models to emulate and support for their career aspirations. As a member of the baby boomer group, I am very aware of the need to think about our "replacements." To make this happen I think all of us experienced research administrators--male and female alike--need to begin to step back and let younger folks take the lead. This is hard to do since we baby boomers are used to making things happen and getting things done "our way." For the field to stay vital and continue to grow we need these new voices and new ideas. I would encourage my fellow baby boomers to talk less and listen more.

Lynne Chronister:

I believe the future is bright for the profession of research administration. As the government institutes more and more regulations and funds remain as competitive as they are today, higher education must rely on trained professionals to manage the business processes. Having said that, I think the profession is regaining popularity among men. Salaries within the higher education community are not large, unless you are at the level of President or Dean, but are respectable. The obstacles I see for reaching leadership positions are no less or greater than for men.

Cindy Kiel:

It is difficult not to notice the apparent disparity between the numbers of men and women in our profession currently. One sure sign is at professional meetings when there are always long lines extending outside the women's restrooms, but nary a soul outside the men's restrooms. Nonetheless, at an anecdotal level, I too, have noticed an apparent difference of gender proliferation in the upper echelons of research administration versus those in the trenches. Thus, in an attempt to test my anecdotal perception against the realm of data, I decided to do a mini-study of 15 research Universities with over $300 million in sponsored research...

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