I recently posted to Facebook an article about the challenges associated with being a woman in higher education, along with a comment about how lucky I’ve been to reach the level of dean in a sector where leadership roles have traditionally gone to men. Despite my good fortune, I am mindful that a great deal of work remains to end sexual harassment and discrimination against women and others in the Academy and elsewhere.

For my part, I climbed the tenure and promotion ladder in economics, a field characterized then and now by a highly disproportionate number of men. Fortunately, most of my colleagues in graduate school and since have been interested in ideas, rather than the gender of the person proffering those ideas. Nonetheless,  the field of economics can feel lonely and intimidating, given that aggressive, hyper-competitive argumentation dominates it, sometimes to the detriment of actual substance. Some of my female friends did not persist and simply walked away from their potential careers in economics.

In addition to being an economics scholar, I’m also a longstanding, successful administrator in higher education. Here, too, I’ve generally been fortunate to work with colleagues who take my ideas at face value. Again, however, men dominate the landscape. Discrimination persists and leadership is needed to ensure that women and minority administrators can thrive in an environment where they feel welcome and valued.

These problems require attitudinal changes. One person or set of trainings will not solve them. My own efforts for change have focused on creating and building the Young Scholars Program at the History of Economics Society. With my co-author, David M. Levy, I also co-directed the Summer Institute for the History of Economic Thought for 15 years, first at George Mason University and then at the University of Richmond. Both endeavors have required a great deal of time and enthusiasm, but I consider this well-directed energy.

The two programs were designed to support and celebrate the work of a diverse set of young scholars who might otherwise face loneliness and other hurdles in their respective academic settings. “Analytical egalitarianism,” as Levy and I have called it, characterized the Summer Institute. In practice, that meant that male and female; senior and junior; black, brown, and white; gay, trans, and straight scholars were treated with the same warmth and curiosity. The ideas mattered, pure and simple, and all deserved a hearing.

I continue to be mindful of my good fortune in higher education. More than this, I’m determined to keep working to achieve full equality in the Academy. Only when we come to appreciate and then eradicate uneven expectations in this setting will we experience the equality we frequently discuss but have yet to achieve.

Leadership in the face of bias

Sandra J. Peart

Dr. Peart is Dean of the School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. She is an economist with special interests in leadership and economics and leadership ethics. More about her: Go to jepson.richmond.edu and see faculty information.

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