Women’s leadership study ranks NU 83rd of 87 Mass. colleges


File photo by Brian Bae

Northeastern has never had a female president.

Lucy Gavin, news staff

A new study from the Women’s Power Gap Initiative and the Eos Foundation, a private family foundation that is committed to issues of social justice, found that Northeastern ranks poorly for female leadership. The study, called Women’s Power Gap in Higher Education, looked at the number of women in leadership positions at Massachusetts’ 87 higher-education institutions. 

“We have long focused on anti-hunger issues and more recently, really focused on gender equity and diversity leadership issues across all sectors of society,” said Christy Dubé Mach, Eos Foundation director. “We have always funded in that space, but it has become a new focus, if you will, over the last few years in part given the national climate.”

Graphic by: Jayden Khatib

Northeastern ranked 83rd of 87 institutions for “comprehensive gender leadership.” According to the report, Northeastern is one of six Massachusetts schools that have “never had a female president or board chair, and who currently count fewer than 30 percent women on their boards.”

“That loses significant points because [president is] arguably the most important position, helping to set the culture on the campus and working with the board,” Dubé said.

The Women’s Power Gap Initiative concluded that doctoral institutions such as Northeastern, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts Boston are the furthest from achieving gender parity. Out of the 18 doctoral institutions in Massachusetts, only four have female presidents. According to the report, only 11 percent of doctoral institutions have reached a “satisfactory” level of gender parity.

The Women’s Power Gap Initiative recommends Northeastern start working toward gender parity through changing the university’s board structure.

“The number one thing that Northeastern can do is start appointing women to the vacant board seats,” Dubé said. “Then at the board level, thinking about succession planning for the board chair.”

Northeastern never responded to their request to confirm the study’s data on Northeastern, Dubé said.

“We asked the school to make any suggested edits to who those leaders were and the institution did not respond despite follow up,” Dubé said. 

In a Nov. 19 email to The News, university spokesperson Renata Nyul said the notion that Northeastern lacks female leadership is “ridiculous.” 

“More than 50 percent of the people in leadership positions at the university (senior leaders, deans, VPs) are women,” Nyul wrote in the email. 

The report also shows that women of color are even further from reaching gender parity at Massachusetts colleges. The study found that women of color comprise only 7 percent of presidents, 7 percent of provosts and 2 percent of board chairs.

The study found that at Northeastern, women of color make up only 3 percent of Board of Trustees members. There are also currently no women of color in any senior academic or administrative positions, according to the study. 

The Women’s Power Gap Initiative finds that Massachusetts institutions are moving in the right direction overall, but there is still much work to be done. 

“Far too many schools are making minimal progress toward gender parity and racial/ethnic representation at the highest leadership levels,” the report said. 

Mia Nguyen, co-founder and director of the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship, said she is optimistic about the future of equal leadership at Northeastern. 

“I think Northeastern’s taking a turn and really changing how we’re developing our women students,” Nguyen said. “Hopefully, that will prove for better, and maybe it’ll change Northeastern.”

Nguyen believes women in leadership roles will continue to increase in the future. Northeastern is “leading the next generation of female leaders,” she said. “I think it all starts with us right now being 18 to 24.”

Update, 12 p.m. Nov.  21: This article has been updated to better reflect Northeastern’s comment on the issue.