New study shows victories and roadblocks for women leaders in Utah higher education

In this file photo, Dixie Applied Technology College President Kelle Stephens celebrates a major milestone in the construction of the college's new campus at the Ridge Top Complex in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A recent study by the Utah Women and Leadership Project found highs and lows for female leaders in Utah higher education, including presidents, vice presidents, board members, chief academic officers and deans. 

Dixie State University campus, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

Based on earlier studies from 2014 and 2017, the new study provides updated information that shows that the percentage of female leaders in Utah higher education is rising. It also shows that while Utah ranks above the national average in the percentage of female presidents of colleges and universities, the state ranks below the national average of women in all leadership positions, and Southern Utah ranks lowest.

The study also found that despite the successes, female leaders are paid less than men and put at a disadvantage when institutions hire presidents and provosts from outside of the institution. 

Nancy Hauck, the study’s lead author and associate provost of community and global engagement at Dixie State University, told St. George News that her goal for the study was to examine leadership opportunities for women in higher education in Utah. Currently Utah ranks the lowest in the nation for women in leadership, she said. 

“We need to rethink our cultural limits for women, yet do so with the value of family life, which we do well here in Utah,” Hauck said. “We want to look at the lifespan career development of women. Not doing so is what I feel is holding women back here in Utah. We somehow don’t see past 35 years of age. If you’re going to live to be 85 or more, you’ve got another 50 years after 35 to develop further in your career. So much can be done in those years. Our state really needs to see the lifespan professional life of women. One thing I hope results from the study is that we stop and reexamine that cultural misconception we have in Utah and provide more leadership opportunities for women across the state.”

In 2017, 50% of leadership roles in higher education across the U.S. were filled by women, according to the study. Today, women occupy 52% of those roles. Women in Utah only fill 36% of those roles this year. The leadership roles examined in the study include presidents, board members, cabinet members, chief academic officers, vice presidents and academic deans. They also vary between institutions and their individual characteristics. 

Stock photo.| Photo by
Chinnapong/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

In 2014, 12.5% of public and private degree-granting Utah college and university presidents were women. In 2017, the number rose to 25% and in 2021, 50% of presidents are female.

Four of the eight degree-granting public colleges and universities are led by women, as well as one of two private colleges and one of two technical colleges.

In Southern Utah, only Dixie Technical College is led by a female president. 

In 2020, Southern Utah University President Scott Wyatt made $403,281.53, according to Transparent Utah. Dixie State University President Richard Williams made $348,750.34 last year, while Dixie Tech president Kelle Stephens, the only female president of a college or university across Southern Utah, made $239,554.72. 

St. George News reached out to Stephens for comment but did not get a response before the time of publication.

At Dixie State University, 15.4% of leadership positions are filled by women, Hauck said. This includes the role of president, provost, vice presidents and academic deans. Dixie State has fairly high female representation on its Board of Trustees, including 50% of trustees and a female vice-chair, according to the study, which also found that women are less likely to fill the role of chair. 

Universities and colleges tend to hire presidents and provosts from outside of the institution, the study found. In 2020, 69% of presidents and 46% of provosts came from outside the area. 

“According to research, this pattern may explain why women still hold less than 40% of executive leadership roles,” the study states. “Women are more geographically bound than men. The rising trend in Utah to hire talent from outside the state may especially negatively impact the pipeline to leadership for women in higher education who live in Utah.”

The study also found that although women earn more than half the doctorate degrees across the country, men earn more money in every rank and in every institution type except for two-year private institutions. At public institutions, men make $13,874 more than women, and at four-year private institutions, they make $18,201 more than women. Female presidents are also less likely to be married and have children, according to the study. In Utah, men make 8% more than women across administrative positions, or $16,396. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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