Monday numbers: the women’s power gap at elite research universities

New report charts progress for women in leadership roles. But they still have a long way to go — including in NC

By: - June 5, 2023 6:00 am

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Women are increasingly taking top leadership positions at the nation’s most elite research universities, according to a new report by the Eos Foundation’s Women’s Power Gap Initiative. But women – especially women of color — still have a long way to go to achieve parity with men in such positions, particularly in North Carolina.

Though women now earn more than half the undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in the U.S., women are still heavily underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. At the elite universities doing the most STEM-related research, women are similarly underrepresented.

The Eos Foundation report, released last week, breaks down diversity data for the 146 U.S. institutions designated “R1” — doctoral universities with very high research activity — by the Carnegie Institute. While the majority of president and chancellor positions on those campuses are still held by white men, researchers found recent progress for women.

“In our analysis of the leadership of the nation’s 146 elite research universities (known as R1s), we found a significant increase in women presidents in the last 20 months,” the report reads. “Between September 2021 and May of 2023, half of the newly appointed presidents were women, increasing their overall representation from 22% to 30%.”

In North Carolina, the state’s three R1 institutions — North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University — are all led by men.

“That is a number where we need to improve,” State Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) told Newsline last week. “We’ve seen more women in chancellor roles at our universities, but not in top leadership roles at these high research universities. When you look at how many women are enrolled at our universities and colleges in North Carolina and how many of them are in science and research, you’d expect to see more women leaders.”

Robinson is a member of the Senate’s standing committee on universities and member of the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina. She also served on the UNC Board of Governors for a decade.

“Leadership and who is considered for these leadership positions does matter,” Robinson said.

The state’s top research universities may all be male-led, said Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), House Majority whip and co-chair of the House standing committees on universities. But across the UNC System, the number of female chancellors has been increasing.

“We have a number of excellent female chancellors now at UNC schools including UNC-Charlotte, Western Carolina University and Appalachian State,” Hardister said. “I’ve enjoyed speaking and getting to know all of them. I think you have to look at all of our institutions and leadership at the system level, too.”

This week, a by-the-numbers look at women in leadership at elite research institutions – in North Carolina and beyond.

146 – total number of U.S. universities and colleges — public and private — designated as “R1” by the Carnegie Foundation

The designation is coveted by research institutions, as it helps to draw top talent and research dollars. It can also lead companies seeking to capitalize on research minds and their work to a geographic area, as evidenced by North Carolina’s own Research Triangle Park.

3 – number of R1 institutions in North Carolina — Duke University, North Carolina State University and UNC-Chapel Hill

Located in Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill respectively, the universities and their research have played a key role in the economic health of the Triangle region.

58 – percentage of all U.S. undergraduate degrees earned by women in the last year

62 – percentage of all U.S. master’s degrees earned by women in the last year — women also accounted for more than half of all U.S. PhDs

30 – percentage of president or chancellor positions at U.S. R1 universities held by women — that’s up from 22% in 2021

6 – percentage of president or leadership roles at U.S. R1 universities held by women of color — that’s up 1% from 2021

70 – percentage president or chancellor positions at U.S. R1 universities held by men

8 – percentage decline since 2021 that represents — each of North Carolina’s three R1 institutions is led by a white man

18 – percentage of those positions held by men of color

6 – number of women presidents among the nation’s 8 “Ivy League” institutions

Women now hold the top leadership positions at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

57 – number of campuses among the nation’s 146 R1 institutions that have never had a female president or chancellor, nearly 40%

Less than 40 – percentage of board chairs who are women

38 – percentage of new presidents or chancellors named in the last two years who are women

10 – number of R1 institutions that named their first woman president in the last two years: Columbia, Dartmouth, George Washington University, New York University, Ohio University, Oregon State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of Maryland, Baltimore County University, University of Pittsburgh and the University of Texas at Arlington.

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.