Women now make up 57 percent of the nation’s college students and earn 60 percent of all degrees, but they represent only 26 percent of full professors, according to the 2009 White House Project Report, “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership.” They also account for fewer than 30 percent of the members on college and university boards, and only 23 percent of college and university presidents — a number that has not changed in the last 10 years.

Providing women with the skills to right this imbalance served as the focus of a two-day workshop held just before APA’s Annual Convention in San Diego. Sponsored by APA’s Committee on Women in Psychology and the Women’s Program Office, the third annual Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology also sought to promote positive changes in institutional and organizational life and to increase the diversity, number and effectiveness of female leaders in the field.

This year, 25 midcareer female psychologists from diverse regions and backgrounds took part in the institute, which featured an address by St. Joseph College President Pamela Trotman Reid, PhD, a developmental psychologist.

Reid spoke about how an absence of female leaders in academia may have far-reaching effects not only on institutions, but also on the scope of research and knowledge available to the larger public. Women can serve as role models and mentors to younger women starting out on their own leadership path, she said, exhorting attendees to reach out to the younger generation of leaders.

She also stressed the importance of building on past experiences to reach one’s goals. Reid, for example, worked as a professor at eight institutions and served in administrative roles at four before her 2008 appointment at St. Joseph. With each position, she met new people, adapted to new organizational cultures and learned new leadership skills. But at each of these institutions, Reid encountered similar challenges — mainly related to juggling work and family life, managing thinning resources and navigating university politics.

She urged attendees to appraise their strengths honestly and to identify the skills they need to develop — a step that may indicate administrative work is not for them.

“You do not have to be an administrator to be a leader in your institution or organization,” she said. “You do have to be able to understand multiple perspectives so that you can influence others, however.”

Reid also shared lessons she’s learned in academic leadership and life:

  • Set your own goals and remember to dream.

  • Develop your skills and your network.

  • Adopt a few mentors and cultivate advisers.

  • Volunteer and self-nominate.

  • Act like a leader, because perception often becomes reality.

  • Know the rules and learn the history.

  • Learn how to share the work and the credit.

  • Seek balance and live by your priorities.

  • Make a life, not just a career.

“There are tradeoffs in every position,” Reid said. “I suggest that women make clear their goals and try to balance the competing demands so that they can have a good life as well as a successful career.”

Amy Novotney is a writer in Chicago.

Further reading

  • Barreto, M., Ryan, M.K. & Schmitt, M.T. (Eds.) (2009). The Glass Ceiling in the 21st Century: Understanding Barriers to Gender Equality. Washington, DC: APA Books.