WAME Retrospective: A Milestone Achievement
- In 1993, there were very few women deans at AACSB schools; today there are several hundred. While there’s been great progress, much work still needs to be done.
- WAME offers members opportunities to network, find mentors, and interact with peers in small groups.
- In the past 30 years, WAME has had a direct impact on business education by increasing the participation, retention, and development of talented women academic leaders.
Thirty years ago, business school leadership looked very different than it does today, particularly in its gender distribution. At that time, there were only a handful of female deans at AACSB-accredited schools, though more women were assuming roles as program directors, department chairs, and associate deans. Those taking on these leadership positions felt a great need to work together, network, and share insights.
Patricia Flynn (pictured at left), who then was serving as dean at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, believed these women needed to have a formal organization that would allow them to support each other and trade ideas. AACSB had just started offering opportunities for like-minded individuals to form affinity groups, and so the Women Administrators in Management Education (WAME) Affinity Group was born.
While we still have more progress to make, we have witnessed remarkable changes in the past 30 years. During deans conferences in the early 2000s, there might have been only 20 women in the room at WAME meetings, and there was never a line in the women’s restroom!
But today, as more women have earned business doctoral degrees, joined universities, achieved tenure, been promoted, and taken on administrative positions, the whole tenor of the affinity group meetings at conferences has changed. So many women are present that it’s standing room only at WAME events. What has not changed is the support women have always needed and provided to each other, both professionally and personally.
As WAME celebrates the anniversary of its founding, it seems like a good time to look back on what we’ve accomplished and what is still left to do.
Networking, Mentorship, and Support
In 1993, women leaders in the business school encountered a number of challenges, many of which are still present today. For instance, because the business school is a male-dominated environment, women often feel isolated and lack role models. They also face microaggressions and bullying from the old guard of faculty and staff in work environments that support stereotypes of what “women leaders should be like.”
From the beginning, WAME has sought to help women overcome these challenges by inspiring, preparing, and supporting them. We are open to women at all levels of the business academic enterprise, from doctoral students to assistant professors. We also provide mentorship for members as they go through the tenure and promotion process and take on leadership roles in universities. In addition, we offer support to the growing number of nontenured women faculty who are accepting promotions and stepping into leadership roles.
WAME seeks to inspire, prepare, and support women. We provide mentorship for members going through the tenure process and offer support to nontenured women stepping into leadership roles.
One of our most important services is offering members networking opportunities. While many of these events occur at formal settings such as conferences, we also organize opportunities for women to meet informally so members can get to know one another on more personal levels. As WAME members, we prioritize these meetings because we do not take for granted the value of developing personal relationships.
For instance, one relatively new but popular WAME program is called Got Your Back, which matches up three administrators who have similar backgrounds and come from institutions of the same type and size. Together, they form a confidential networking and support group. WAME also organizes Monthly Chats, which provide access to a growing network of women professionals who integrate a variety of institutional and individual perspectives. We might have specific topics for our monthly chats or see what the women are most concerned about at that time.
In addition, we organize workshops where we offer members advice on learning to say “no,” or practicing negotiations, or getting on corporate boards. Women rarely receive formal training in any of these areas. In all of these sessions, members receive rich advice for their professional development in a supportive, collaborative environment.
As management education evolves, WAME will push itself to stay relevant and create programming that responds to the needs of women business administrators, faculty, and future administrators. For instance, we are considering training administrators in succession planning. We also want to provide more opportunities for women faculty to learn about the positive aspects and challenges that come with administrative roles. We want them to think about taking on leadership positions, but have a realistic preview of what such jobs entail.
Inclusivity, Education, and Celebration
We believe that the WAME Affinity Group has been successful for many reasons:
- It is open to and inclusive of all individuals. We welcome deans, associate and assistant deans, faculty leaders, former administrators, and so on. Members come from schools that are large and small, that do and don’t focus on high research activity, and that are located anywhere in the world. Although attendees at our meetings are primarily women, we are open to having men participate in our meetings, and some are active participants.
- We care deeply about inclusivity. We want to bridge divides that sometimes exist at institutions among administrators, faculty, and staff.
Joyce Russell addresses members of WAME at a recent AACSB event.
- We are a learning-oriented community. We’re committed to helping women feel a strong sense of support as we educate each other on strategies that will enable all of us to be successful professionally.
- We celebrate the accomplishments and journeys of our members. This can be a rare thing in academia, which is often filled with so much competition that people don’t encourage or recognize each other. For instance, WAME’s Patricia Flynn Leadership Award annually celebrates a woman leader who advances support and education for all women. And at each Monthly Chat or affinity group meeting, we take time to applaud each other. Such recognition is really special—and really needed.
Still More to Do
We believe that WAME’s 30 years of networking and support have had a direct impact on the business education landscape by increasing the participation, retention, and development of talented women academic leaders. That said, we will continue to promote and support women’s leadership in the future, because there is still much room for improvement.
Today’s academic environment is ripe for synergistically building innovative business schools. More than ever, campuses are open to diverse perspectives and leadership styles, and more schools provide empathetic mentorship of women leaders. Yet, the representation of women in leadership roles at business schools has shown only slow growth. Even today, it’s not clear what exact percentage of the deans at AACSB schools globally are women, although the number appears to hover between 25 percent and 30 percent.
The reasons behind this low female participation are no different from the reasons we see in other domains. They include limited mentorship and networking opportunities, work-life imbalances that are socially perpetuated, demanding service commitments that can hamper professional growth, and discrimination, to name a few.
This is why WAME is so important for so many women academics. It provides an unshakeable foundation built on a strong network that promotes personal belonging and professional success. Individuals clamor to join WAME. They show up at meetings—whether virtually or in person—to learn from each other and to feel a sense of support. They know that they can confidentially share information with and receive advice from someone who cares and has faced similar challenges.
Tomorrow’s business leaders must be innovative, holistic thinkers who can effectively cross disciplinary lines to find robust solutions. These leaders must deliver value to their organizations as well as to their communities. Business schools will only be able to develop such leaders if their own faculty and administrators manifest these very qualities. And we believe that when women are equitably represented in top academic positions, they can shape the right learning environment for these future professionals.