her for the intensity of the old boys club mentality that pervaded Simon
Fraser.” Frustrated, she cut short her first term and returned to political life.
“She was marginalized and seen by many as an outsider, although by
her extensive academic background she should not have been seen that
way,” Dr. Marsden told the London audience in her 2004 speech.
More than a decade would pass before another woman would match
Dr. Jewett’s accomplishment and move into the corner office: Marsha
Hanen at the University of Winnipeg in 1989, followed in quick succession by Geraldine Kenney-Wallace at McMaster University, Elizabeth
Parr-Johnston at MSVU, Susan Mann at York University and Dr. Marsden
herself, in 1992, at Wilfrid Laurier.
Dr. Marsden credits Janet Wright, president and founder of Janet
Wright & Associates, an executive search firm, for these early successes
by bringing women candidates to the attention of search committees and
governing boards, and ensuring that they were included in presidential
search pools. “When Janet was trying to persuade me to let my name stand
for president of Wilfrid Laurier University, she had Marsha [Hanen]
phone me,” recalls Dr. Marsden. “Janet wasn’t just sourcing names for the
search committees, she was mentoring people who could become presi-
dent. That was a huge breakthrough.”
The proportion of women leaders continued to climb throughout the
1990s. But then, as Dr. Turpin’s study notes, the numbers stagnated. To
this day there are many universities that have never had a woman pres-
ident. “To me that is shocking,” says Vianne Timmons, president of the
University of Regina.
The difficulty with recruiting women to the presidency, in her view,
starts further down the pipeline, at the level of provost, vice-president and
dean, from which presidents are often chosen. “When I have a VP position
open, I get applications primarily from men,” notes Dr. Timmons. “It’s a
real concern. Where are the women?”
Academia is by no means an anomaly in this regard. Across sectors
and industries, “as we rise up the ranks there are fewer and fewer women,”
says Vandana Juneja, senior director of Catalyst Canada. “We see women
facing similar challenges and similar barriers” as they strive to move higher
up the ladder.
The reasons why are numerous and complex and have little to do
with child-rearing and family responsibilities, as is often assumed.
Ms. Juneja notes that even among women and men who have made similar life choices – such as to not have children – and who aspire to senior
leadership positions, women still lag behind. “There are other factors at
play,” she says. These include systemic barriers such as a dearth of senior
role models that can make it difficult for women to envisage themselves
in leadership roles; a lack of access to informal networks and senior-level mentors and sponsors; and deeply ingrained biases in hiring and
Aggravating the situation, in Dr. Timmons’ view, is the high degree
of public scrutiny that women in these positions are now under. She says
she’s astounded by the number of negative comments made about her on
social media that refer specifically to her gender. “I don’t care so much
when [the comments] are about my clothes or my hair or my voice even.
But when it’s about my parenting, or being a mother, those I find a little
more challenging,” she says. “Sometimes it cuts to the quick.”
Still, she reads the messages and shares them when making presen-
tations to senior administrators and at leadership forums she hosts for
women in the community. “Women leaders need to be prepared for what
they can face,” she says. “I don’t want to whitewash it.” On the other hand,
she also emphasizes the many positive aspects of her job. “There’s not a
day I don’t feel that I’m making a difference. That’s critical.”
Not only are women less likely to hold the top job at a university,
but once having attained it, they are also more likely to have a mandate
cut short. According to Julie Cafley, vice-president of the Ottawa-based
Public Policy Forum, the last six of eight presidents with unfinished man-
dates have been women. (Likewise, U of A’s Dr. Turpin told the Globe and
Mail that he and his research colleagues recently updated their analysis
of university presidents and also found that this is happening with great-
er frequency to women than to men.) Several former presidents that Dr.
Cafley interviewed for her PhD research, both male and female, spoke of
“a dominant male culture” within Canadian universities, especially at the
board level and in senior leadership teams – not that different from what
Dr. Jewett encountered more than 40 years ago.
“When I have a VP position
open, I get applications
primarily from men. It’s a
real concern. Where are
Vianne Timmons, president of the University of Regina