Start with Diverse Voices

A cultural shift is imperative when thinking about policy changes to address gender inequality. Developing a policy is easy work, but developing a thoughtful, positively impactful, and well-informed policy requires a great deal of intentionality. When thinking about policies to address gender equality specifically, it makes sense that both men and women equally are at the drawing board.

“Women…are chronically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and the financial industries, and their numbers are also far too small in the top positions on the corporate ladder” (Thomas, 2016, p. 5). While we have come a long way, women are still underrepresented in many areas including policy and decision making. According to a Rutgers (2021) report, women comprise just 26% of 535 seats in the U.S. congress and just 30% of 310 statewide executive positions. More women should be empowered to run for office and more voters need to recognize the value of having women in elected roles. Likewise, corporations need to intentionally close the gap between male and females in leadership roles. Not to mention including trans and non-binary voices at the table as well.

Top policy making and government positions still seem to be very much in the (white, heterosexual, affluent) man’s world. It is not just about high-level positions. Women’s advocates and professional organizations are hugely influential. Truly fair gender equality policies can be achieved with the decision-making gender gap closes. Providing more opportunities for women to be heard and empowering them to be part of the process will give them more influence over the decisions that will impact their lives, and the lives of their loved ones. While great strides have been made under Title VII and laws such as FMLA, there is much more work to be done. Governments and organizations must be more reflective of the people over which both have influence.

Including the very individuals in the decision-making process around policies that affect them is key – stop putting the cart before the horse! Including diverse individuals in positions of influence are important for achieving equality (and equity) because their unique perspectives and experiences provide valuable insight (and foresight) for how to address the concerns and needs of people in constantly and rapidly evolving society. We as leaders need to stop pretending we know what is best for groups of people we have no shared experience with. Money and resources are an issue for achieving true gender equality? Bring men and women (and other diverse voices) together to solve the money/resource issue. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished if people work together, value each other’s perspectives, and work collaboratively on solutions.

As leaders in higher education, we have a responsibility to do just that – bring diverse people together in pursuit of liberal arts education AND common interests, as well as in finding important solutions to complex issues (at a micro and macro level). It starts with having a diverse Board, to recruitment and hiring processes, to training and professional development practices, to cabinet level positions, to faculty and staff support. More importantly, we must model this intentional effort for bringing diverse voices to decision-making processes for our students and the future leaders of society. If we effectively close the decision-making gender gap, we just might be able to combat gender inequality. But let us also not stop at gender. Until we include diverse voices in the decision and policy making processes, we should probably expect more of the same “looks nice, but smells funny” policies that have very real consequences for the people they impact.


Thomas, G. (2016). Because of sex: One law, ten cases, and fifty years that changed American women’s lives at work.  St. Martin’s Press.

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