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Five Practical Actions for Women Accepting the Challenges of the World of Higher Education


Advancing Women and the Underrepresented in the Academy
A National Symposium
November 16-17, 2007
Johnson C. Smith University
Charlotte, North Carolina


Carmen Leonor Martínez-López, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Borough of Manhattan Community College
Eva I. Kolbusz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Borough of Manhattan Community College

As women faculty, we confront the realities of the academic workplace on a daily basis. We are not seeking further diagnoses as to the causes for the lack of advancement in our professional lives; instead, we accept the challenge of changing our situation by investigating practical strategies that will help close the gap between male and female faculty.  We will discuss strategies for the advancement of women in academia and identify priorities for academic progress.

The challenge of closing the gender gap in academia emanates from our experiences as junior faculty at a community college in an urban setting. Historically, women have been perceived as timid, preferring to maintain a low profile as a path to acceptance.  In contrast, men practice exclusion and use their networks of relationships to maintain power.  Our answer to these practices is to empower ourselves and initiate action (Adams & Flynn, 2005).

This paper addresses the practical issues using a theoretical foundation and some examples from higher education institutions that speak to the following themes; 1) women faculty members need to understand the reality of the academic environment, come forward, and demonstrate their abilities without fear; 2) women faculty need to be able to market themselves and understand that their preparation and credentials have the same importance   Third, women faculty need to be aware that networking and mentoring are important for survival because these relationships are a vital source of personal and professional support.  Fourth, women faculty need to take advantage of internal and external faculty development opportunities at their institutions because in this way they will gain exposure to their peers, as well as administrators from their institution and other institutions.  Finally, women faculty need to identify their priorities and manage their time with a check list, where they can use visual tools to maintain the equilibrium of their personal, familial, social, and professional lives (Burke & McKeen, 1993; Gersick, Bartunek, & Dutton, 2000).

Key words: Academy environment, advancement, and challenge.

It is generally believed that women in academia have been excluded because of the way the academic system has historically operated.  However, this is not the time to cry over the past; this is a time to act.  In the corporate model, managers are taking action to ensure diversity of the workforce in general and include women in particular in their organizations.  On September 9, 2007, a special advertising supplement to The New York Times Magazine presented a report about diversity and inclusion leadership.  The main concepts in the article are that diversity is a corporate reality and organizations need to transform their culture to manage this reality.  Corporate diversity is concerned with more than race and gender; the principal responsibility of the chief diversity officer is to create a productive environment, where tolerance and opportunities for all people are addressed (New York Times, 2007).

Some examples of specific diversity strategies that corporations are implementing are as follows.  First, AARP has developed a comprehensive training program in diversity that is mandatory for all of the organization’s 2,300 employees.  Second, Sodexho North America offers a diversity-training program, to help their employees to internalize the diversity message; also, they have a mentoring program for the members of the diversity group.  Third, at American Airlines, the Diversity Committee of the company’s Board of Directors reviews the diversity initiative six times a year, to ensure that the company is achieving its diversity goals.  Finally, Desiree Dancy, the Vice President of the Diversity and Inclusion for The New York Times, states, “What we do with our outreach to minorities in journalism careers sets the tone for the rest of the journalism industry” (New York Times, 2007).

It is imperative that top management of colleges and universities learn from the corporate world and start to lead the process of diversity and inclusion.  To begin this process, academic leaders must define their strategies, set their goals, and develop activities that will help to change the culture of exclusion to one that celebrates diversity by including all groups and in particular women.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Understanding Reality
Women faculty members need to understand the reality of the academic environment and come forward to demonstrate their abilities without fear.  The mechanism to do this is through empowering oneself—doing the things that one knows are best for one’s professional life instead of doing things to satisfy others.  In this case, the resource of empowerment is internal; one needs to make decisions that contribute in particular to one’s professional growth and in general to the improvement of the organization.  In general, the practice of empowerment leads to an environment of cooperation rather than an atmosphere of competition.  When women faculty practice empowerment, they feel a sense of self-efficacy; they know that they can perform any task successfully.  They are self-determined to choose, initiate, and regulate their own actions, and they act as owners of their activities (Bandura, 1989; Greenberger & Stasser, 1991; Staples, 1990; Zimmerman, 1990).

2.2. Promoting Oneself
Women faculty need to be able to sell themselves and to understand that their preparation and credentials have the same importance as that of male faculty.  To promote themselves, faculty women need to know how to manage themselves.  They need to be ambitious and smart to take advantage of the opportunities that the profession offers them, but they need to know that more responsibilities come with the new challenges they assume.  One managerial technique that is useful to managing oneself is feedback analysis.  For women faculty, it is necessary to identify strengths related to teaching, research, and service. Research findings indicate that success is more often built by focusing on one’s strengths rather than by trying to work on one’s weaknesses (Clifton & Harter, 2003; Drucker, 2005). 

2.3. Networking and Mentoring
Women faculty need to be aware that networking and mentoring are important for survival because these relationships are a vital source of personal and professional support.  Networking is a support that can help women faculty to better confront the pressures of teaching, research, and service.  These are areas where senior colleagues can help women faculty to analyze the consequences of not balancing these three areas appropriately (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993; Lehrer, 1996).  Research findings show that professional success is strongly related to mentoring, and women faculty need role models to serve as coaches for them.  “In coaching, [senior faculty] pass along advice and information, or they set standards to help [junior faculty] to improve their work skills; coaching focuses on abilities” (Hendricks, 1996; Whetten & Cameron, 2007).  Finally, junior women faculty need to work in teams with other junior and senior faculty, where they can act as facilitators or contributors, to help develop the goals for the team (Parker, 1996).

2.4. Faculty Development Opportunities
Women faculty need to take advantage of faculty development opportunities at the internal and external levels of their institutions because in this way they will gain exposure to their peers, as well as administrators from their institutions and other institutions.  One philosophy that is important to apply in developing oneself is the concept of “continuous improvement,” which is the English translation of the Japanese word KaizenKaizen is explained as activities to improve the “overall system by constantly improving the little details” (Kreitner, 2007).  One of the authors of this paper has used this philosophy with her students, where she stresses the importance of transferring to their jobs the concept of continuous improvement by addressing these two questions everyday.  First, students are told at the end of each day to ask themselves what activities they executed that day on their jobs that they will improve the next day.  Second, students are directed at the beginning of the day to ask themselves which activities they want to improve that day?  In practicing continuous improvement, women faculty need to experiment, measure, adjust, and improve the activities on their jobs.  The benefit of practicing this philosophy is that women faculty will be able to deliver their teaching, research, and services with improved quality because they will be practicing the managerial approach that “all things are possible” with effort and creativity.

2.5. Identification of Priorities, and Time Management 
Women faculty need to identify their priorities and manage their time with a check list, so they can use visual tools to maintain the equilibrium of their personal, familial, social, and professional lives.  It is important to categorize one’s activities in terms of importance and urgency.  Important activities are planned and conducted to achieve results.  In contrast, urgent activities need to be confronted immediately.  Table 1 presents how to visualize what activities are important and what activities are urgent.  Cell 1 demonstrates how urgent and important the situation is.  In addition, cell 2 shows how interruptions are urgent but not important.  In contrast, cell 3 indicates that professional development opportunities are important and not urgent; for this reason, they require a serious planning process, where creativity and innovation play an important role.  Finally, cell 4 indicates the activities that are characterized by a high level of routine but are not adding any value to time management.  In conclusion, it is important to take care of the activities listed in cell 3 because is through them that we can add value to our professional lives (Covey, 1989; Lakein, 1989).

Table 1

Important versus Urgent

Low                  High     



Students, administrators, colleagues  complaints

Developmental Opportunities

Calls and visitors

Conversations that are not adding value

Source:  (Covey, 1989; Lakein, 1989).

One critical issue that we need to address is time management for research.  To be a productive scholar, one needs to follow some general recommendations that are taught to students in business programs. For example, to maximize time when one is conducting research, one should selectively read articles and books, divide the research into parts, and then plan and program each activity for a determined period of time by days, weeks, months, semesters, or years.  Once one has a schedule for the activities, procrastination is the worst enemy in getting the research accomplished.  Other recommendations relate to organization, such as defining a place and periods of time where one is going to work, and finally setting deadlines specifying the day of termination of your research.

Finally, as scholars women faculty need to manage their personal and family time.

Seeking examples for our research, we found that some colleges and universities have faculty development and mentoring handbooks.  We also found on the webpage of the Association of American Colleges and Universities the following statement: “Making Excellence Inclusive is designed to help colleges and universities fully integrate their diversity and educational quality efforts and embed them into the core of academic mission and institutional functioning.  Through this initiative, AAC&U re-envisions diversity and inclusion as a multi-layered process through which we achieve excellence in learning; research and teaching; student development; institutional functioning; local and global community engagement; workforce development; and more” (Making Excellence Inclusive, 2007).  Also, the Association of American Colleges and Universities presents key definitions of diversity and inclusion (See Appendix A).

3. Research Questions
How can women advance in academia? What are the priorities that women need to identify to progress in academia?

4. Purpose of this Study
The purpose of this study is to investigate the practical steps that faculty women need to follow to accept the challenge and close that gap.

5. Research Design
To design the literature review, we used key words such as women, academia, academy environment, advancement, and challenge among others.  Through the databases of the City University of New York library website, we identified books and articles, and accessed CUNY e-journals and reference databases related to business and social sciences, such as Business Source Premier, SAGE Management Organizations, and SAGE Psychology, among others.

6. conclusions and recommendations
The conclusions of this paper are the answers to the two questions we posed in this paper.  First, how can women advance in academia?  It is necessary that colleges and universities define a strategy of diversity and inclusion, where minorities in particular and women in general can start to participate in a culture that promotes participation through inclusion.  Also, it is important that women take the initiative and be proactive to empower themselves.  The second question is what are the priorities that women need to identify to progress in academia.  The five actions that women faculty need to address are as follows: first, understanding reality through empowerment of oneself; second, promoting oneself thorough managing oneself; third, networking and mentoring for personal and professional support; fourth, faculty development opportunities to practice the philosophy of continuous improvement; and finally, identification of priorities and development of time management strategies, to identify personal and professional opportunities.

The general recommendation is that women faculty need to continue to investigate what colleges and universities are doing to promote diversity and inclusion for women.  For this reason, we propose that with the support of Faculty Resource Network, we conduct research with the members’ institutions to investigate the status of our institutions in the evolution of inclusion for women and to find practical examples from these institutions.


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