Policies Can Address Gender Inequalities in Higher Education

As a black woman working at a predominantly white institution in Virginia, I am constantly reminded of the gender inequalities and discrimination women of color experience daily. The changing demographic in higher education should allow black women in academia to be able to access the same resources, support, and community as their white counterparts. However, black female professionals are at higher risk for experiencing racism and various barriers to resources and support in higher education work environments (DeCuir et al., 2018).

Higher education leadership should be more representative of women of color. Black women are missing from leadership positions, specifically those positions at predominantly white, research institutions. For black women to feel empowered and appreciated, organizations should make strong efforts to recruit, hire, and include them in decision-making. As a leader in this field, I’d like to see more equitable hiring and retention policies that increase representation among women, especially women of color. I think that diversifying staff and reducing gender inequalities among faculty and staff will directly improve gender inequalities among policies that impact students.

Examples of institutional policies that can increase representation among women of color in higher education:

  1. Members of search committees should be required to complete implicit bias training before engaging in the search process.
  2. Search committees should conduct a study to review a position and its value to the market. This should happen every 3 years.
  3. No more than 30% of a unit can serve on consecutive search committees. For example, if John, Katie, Sarah, and Lewis served on a unit’s most recent search committee, at least two of them is not eligible to serve on the next search committee.
  4. Units should conduct an annual performance validation study to confirm that gender and race/ethnicity are not determinants of the rating outcomes. Biases are more likely to negative impact the pay of female employees than their male counterparts.
  5. Incorporate racial awareness and multicultural competency in professional development that is required quarterly of all units and employees.
  6. Legally, I’d like to see more explicit laws that provide paid parental leave for all employees, regardless of gender. That leave should be full-pay for at least 12 weeks for birth, adoption, loss of child, miscarriage, or other life event involving children. This should also be required of employers with more than five employees.

These policies will help to foster an inclusive and equitable environment where black women and other women of color may feel valued and empowered to use their voices, share their knowledge and experiences, and excel as practitioners. Effective leadership requires inclusive practices that support and value black women by developing legislation and policies, that are rooted in social justice and equity.


DeCuir-Gunby, J. T., Johnson, O. T., Edwards, C. W., McCoy, W. N., & White, A. M. (2020).

African American professionals in higher education: experiencing and coping with racial

microaggressions. Race Ethnicity and Education, 23(4), 492-508.


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1 Comment

  1. Great ideas, and I look forward to reading that article. Thanks for sharing.

    Also, at VCU we have the Recruitment Inclusive Champion (RIC) program that has been in place since 2014. I feel like it had more energy behind it in the early days, but it lives on: https://provost.vcu.edu/faculty/faculty-resources/ric/

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