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10:22 AM

President Maimon Discusses Challenges of Female Leadership in Higher Ed

"What Are the Biggest Challenges You’ve Faced as a Female Leader?" That's the question editors at the "Chronicle of Higher Education" recently posed to nine women who lead or have led college campuses from the peach tree fields of Columbia, South Carolina to historic Kalamazoo.

Defying stereotypes is one challenge GSU President Elaine P. Maimon discussed.  Here is the full text, published in the Chronicle's November 25 issue.

For the last eleven years, I have served as President of Governors State University, and for eleven years before that I was chief executive at two other universities. But no one, not even my biggest fans, would ever say that Central Casting would select me for the presidential role in the next movie blockbuster. Not only am I a woman, I’m also not tall. In addition, I tend to be openly enthusiastic, especially about ideas and students. One might think that enthusiasm would be a plus, but in the stereotypical world of presidential images, it often leads to put-down comments like, “Tell us what you really think, Elaine.” Finally, some might assume that a female English Professor would lack the business acumen to lead a university.

So fighting stereotypes has been a major challenge in my leadership career. Theater training has helped. If you can’t dominate a room with your statuesque height and baritone voice, you can learn other techniques for engaging various audiences. Even more important, you resolve to combat pernicious stereotypes everywhere.

Another challenge is the psychological tendency of other administrators and faculty to interact in terms of some hidden family drama. A senior university officer once told me outright that he had difficulty taking my suggestions because I reminded him of his mother. That made me keenly aware of various ghosts in the room. While focus is essential to presidential leadership, peripheral vision is also necessary.

Finally, any of the above challenges pale in comparison to the state of Illinois’s inability to pass a budget in FY16 and FY17. Public university presidents, male and female, had to continue to educate students under impossible conditions. Perhaps because of past experiences with adversity, the women might have been somewhat better prepared."