Women in leadership positions continue to overcome sexism

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Even though some people believe sexism doesn’t exist, Dixie State University women in leadership positions said they have experienced it first-hand in the workplace. 

Deborah Decker, assistant director of advisement and president of Utah Women in Higher Education Network, said UHWEN’s purpose is to work toward professional advancement and development of women in higher education with both faculty and staff. As president, Decker looks at turnover rates as to why women don’t continue in their positions, as well as what gender occupies leadership positions.

“If you look at research (and) if you have a mix of genders, you find better solutions; you’re more productive,” Decker said.

As part of goal four of President Biff Williams’ strategic plan, DSU hopes to increase the number of female administrators from 25 percent to 50 percent by fall 2020. Travis Rosenberg, executive director of human resources, said as of November 2017, the total number of full-time female employees is 249, while the total number for men is 305. When it comes to leadership positions with assistant or associate directors and higher, 32.23 percent of these positions on campus are occupied by women.

The strategic plan was implemented in July 2015, so the first amount of data came the spring after. In March 2016, women occupied 29.41 percent of administrative positions.

“We have specific benchmarks that we have been asked to meet with the strategic plan when it comes to the number of minorities, as well as how many women occupy administrative positions,” Rosenberg said. “The good news is we are trending upward.” 

Decker said women are more likely to experience sexism in standard positions. Sexism is defined as discriminating against someone based on his or her sex or gender, and Decker said sometimes it’s subtle. 

“If you’re the only woman on the committee, and you’re asked to take notes because you’re a woman and for no other reason; that’s sexism,” she said. 

Nicole Lavoie, assistant professor of communication, recently accepted a new position as chair of the communication department, which she will officially start in January. Although Lavoie said she believes the culture at DSU is more male dominated, she said she hasn’t experienced any direct or implicated sexism, but she has faced it in her career and as a grad student.

“There were some incidents with faculty when I was a grad student with using terms that were gendered or telling me for example, ‘No, no. Don’t you say anything because you’ll be seen as a bitch; I’ll say something,’” Lavoie said. 

Lavoie ended up confronting the man about his behavior and said it wasn’t OK. Both Decker and Lavoie said it’s important for women to stand up for themselves immediately when they experience sexism. 

“I think by not saying anything, it allows for that kind of behavior to continue and go unchecked,” Lavoie said. 

As for people who don’t believe in sexism, Lavoie said in respect to the workplace, ask yourself if you are evaluating coworkers or employees based solely on their skills and qualities. If not, you need to reevaluate yourself. 

Decker said women are more likely to feel like they can succeed in a leadership position if they have a supportive environment or a mentor. 

“I see women all of the time who would make great leaders, but they just just haven’t had the opportunities (and) haven’t felt like they can take advantage of them,” Decker said. “I would encourage women to look for those opportunities.”