President's Blog: Breaking the Bias in Higher Education

Published: March 18, 2022

Breaking the Bias in Higher Education

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (March 8) was breaking the bias and “imagining a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated (where we) shine a spotlight on activity uplifting and inspiring women to pursue goals without bias or barrier.”

Nowhere is this more appropriate than in higher education, and particularly at Holy Family University, with our decades-long legacy of strong women in leadership, founded by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. While I am honored to be the latest in this line, standing on the shoulders of selfless women striving to create positive change, I recognize that there is a great deal of work to be done as we continue to support the next generation of women leaders.

Recent research from the U.S. Census Bureau notes that women continue to be overrepresented in lower-paying jobs, and the pay gap widens with age. Women overall continue to earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man with the same qualifications and skills.
Thus, the charge in higher education is to use this platform to create opportunities for dialog and knowledge exchange to break down barriers and inspire. And on a more practical level, we must continue to serve women with just-in-time education throughout each stage of their careers – through advanced degrees, certificate programs, and reskilling for second or third careers.

This month-long celebration of women in history is an excellent time for all women leaders to reinforce their roles as engines of change. But just as when we discuss achievement equity in higher education, when we look at gender equity, we must tailor solutions to meet each person’s circumstances. The past two years have emphasized the additional pressure and responsibility that tends to fall on women—as witnessed by more than 1.8 million women who have left the workforce.

Those same factors affect women and education, where many may have had to withdraw due to reasons such as loss of income and the need to take care of family. It is vital to demonstrate through action that there is a path to education and that we in higher education support the unique and specific needs of women, whether through modalities of learning, scheduling, or additional resources and services.
And when you see it, you can be it, which is why experiential learning through internships, hearing from women in leadership, and engagement in professional organizations are critical not only for female students but for all students.

We know that no one gets where they are going alone. Throughout my career, professional organizations have provided invaluable occasions to connect, learn, and grow. Support systems are essential to expanding our global perspective, as well as exploring opportunities to advance our lives personally and professionally.

Around the world, it has been proven time and again that education is the most powerful tool to raise up not only an individual, but an entire family. Breaking down barriers to education and success for women has a multiplier effect. As an anchor institution in Northeast Philadelphia, we have the privilege of witnessing that transformation firsthand in our own community.

I’m encouraged to see a number of Philadelphia universities and organizations name women as incoming presidents. I look forward to working with them, as well as our male colleagues, as we help to break the bias and work towards a more equitable world.