Dowdall Among Five Women Honored by ACE

WittKieffer is proud to announce that our Jean Dowdall, Ph.D., Senior Partner Of Counsel, has been selected as part of a group to receive the American Council on Education’s Donna Shavlik award. The award honors individuals who have helped to significantly advance women’s leadership in higher education. Dowdall shares the award with long-time executive search industry colleagues Betty Turner Asher, Jan Greenwood, Narcisa Polonio, and Shelly Weiss Storbeck. Read ACE’s press release about this year’s honorees.

Dowdall spent more than 30 years in higher education. Following a faculty career, she began her administrative career as an American Council on Education (ACE) fellow, and then became a dean of arts and sciences (West Chester University, West Chester, PA), vice president (Arcadia University, Glenside, PA) and president (Simmons College, Boston, MA).

She carried out more than 250 searches for executive leadership in more than 20 years with WittKieffer, including over 60 searches for presidents and chancellors. Among her many other accomplishments, Dowdall is the author of the classic recruiting book, Searching for Higher Education Leadership: Advice for Candidates and Search Committees, and was a frequent contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the Q&A below, she answers a few questions about the award and the state of women’s leadership in higher education:

What does it mean to you to be recognized alongside other women executive search leaders as recipients of the Shavlik award?

Dowdall: I am truly deeply honored by this award. The women in the group being honored are longtime friends and close colleagues, and we have learned from and supported each other over the years. Among us, we have executed over 3,000 searches. It’s an especially great honor that the award is named for Donna Shavlik, who led the Office of Women at the American Council on Education and was a great friend to all of us.

Do you think the search profession has helped to “move the needle” in terms of promoting women to more senior positions in higher education? How has it done so?

Dowdall: Yes, I think we have helped to “move the needle.” My recollection is that, 25 years ago when I came into search, it was the consultants who valued and pursued diversity in our candidate pools; search committees didn’t necessarily press us to bring them diverse candidates. Today, by contrast, DEI (diversity/equity/inclusion) commitments are institutionalized and DEI values are widely shared by faculty, senior administrators and trustees. Slates of candidates without women and people of color are rarely acceptable anymore.

In addition to actively recruiting women and people of color, all of us being honored taught in professional development programs and did a lot of personal coaching to help prepare diverse candidates for professional advancement. Countless workshops and seminars surely made a difference. The results are good – women were 10 percent of college presidents 30 years ago, and today we are 30 percent. A long way still to go to reach parity, but a good step forward.

What’s your take on the current state of women’s leadership in academia? What challenges lay ahead and what progress still needs to happen?

Dowdall: The current state of gender diversity in higher education is better than it was, but still not where it needs to be. Although most of the Ivy League institutions have had women presidents, the rest of the top tier of higher education is still dominated by male presidents (women are eight percent of these doctoral-institution presidents), while the community colleges have a much stronger representation of women (37 percent of the CC presidents). A threat to gender diversity lies in the belief that we’ve achieved a sufficiently good balance that professional development efforts are no longer needed. I hope we’ll reach that point – but I don’t think we’re there yet. Search consultants can continue to lead the way!