The number of women in leadership positions and their strength in aspects of both local and national organizations have not gone unnoticed—people around the country are finding out how important their voices are and how they can be a strong leader in society. Women’s voices are becoming increasingly vital to the nation and to the Gustavus community as well. Women in business leadership, higher education and in politics have all been coming to the forefront as strong leaders and game changers.
With a higher number of female full-time faculty members at Gustavus than ever before, the impact that women have as leaders in higher education is a crucial part in determining their success. Starting in the late 80s, women enrollment and activity on campus began to increase rapidly. The amount of women in higher education have been growing upwards in numbers and impact ever since.
“Even from when I was a student here to now as the Dean of Students, I think that there has always been a place at the table for women,” Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Life JoNes VanHecke ’88 said.
One of the many significant contributions women have made to this campus over the years includes the magazine publication “Heterodoxy,” which VanHecke recalls as a “female perspective literary magazine.” One of the beginning steps that women at Gustavus took towards getting their voices heard was through this publication.
“The Womyn’s Awareness Center was one of the more significant voices on campus, especially with Heterodoxy. We felt it was very cutting edge; it was a voice for women from a perspective that wasn’t quite heard before,” VanHecke said.
Presently, the efforts to increase women in leadership are going strong at Gustavus. The alumni organization Gustavus Women in Leadership is one umbrella group in the system of higher education that promotes the equality of women and is a great cause for continuing their success in society. Gustavus Women in Leadership puts on events such as lunches, conferences and networking events that help women at Gustavus.
“I see a lot more women that are confident in their skills and abilities on campuses within the student body. There is a much better sense of self and wanting to make their mark in the world,” alumnae advisory committee member for Gustavus Women in Leadership Kari Clark ’91 said.
Although the roles of women in higher education are increasingly prevalent and noticed today, the fight for women’s rights is certaintly not over.
“It’s harder for students nowadays to see fighting for women’s rights and equality as their cause because some haven’t experienced the discrimination. Today’s generation may have just grown up with the benefits of better equality for women. There is a different sense of urgency today than there was 20 years ago,” VanHecke said.
“I still see some of the issue that were present when I was a student—there’s a challenge with taking on the top positions, but we aim to find women that have been successful in leadership and connect them to students,” Clark said.
Women now make up 58 percent of those enrolled in two and four-year colleges and are now seen as the majority in graduate
schools across the country.
“It’s important to me to see women in senior leadership positions, and women as college presidents; every time you see a woman in one of those positions, it brings credence to the fact that we are bringing progress to equity,” VanHecke said.
The 2012 election showed the world that women are a force to be reckoned with, and that their support is more crucial than ever to win. Just in sheer numbers, women are becoming increasingly apparent as strong and powerful figures, even under the magnifying glass. Numerous milestones for women were made this year—from a record number of women elected to senate, to winning state and local elections across the nation, their impact has not gone unnoticed. Although, some argue that it is just pure numbers.
“There’s more women than men, she there more female voters,” Political Science associate professor Kate Knutson said. In this election, 8.8 million more women voted than men.
While there was a larger number of women voting, the presidential election numbers were quite close and it goes without saying that there were other factors involved. Women’s voices were heard, and not just because of their sheer dominance in numbers.
“In statewide offices, women have 23% of the available positions. Being in those positions gives them a pipeline to succeed at executive levels,” Knutson said.
As log as there are more candidates serving in state and local races, Knutson predicts the number of women taking on greater leadership position will continue to grow and their impact in society will greaten.
The setbacks that women have had in politics, mainly attacks on them, are primarily based on gender stereotypes.
“The attacks are more veiled nowadays. On a national level, when Clinton was running for president, it was about whether or not she was strong enough to deal with issues of foreign policy,” Knutson said.
By continuing to gain positions in politics, women are showing that their voices make a difference in elections at both the local and national level.
In the business world, women are slowly but surely making their way to the top ranking positions in largely male dominated business environments. With 2.3% of CEOs in businesses being female, the numbers are against them—but that doesn’t weaken the fight.
“There are still more men in higher positions. Usually the women are not present at the executive table, but young women are now getting the support and mentoring to be successful in those environments. Young students are learning how to be successful in the business world, which is still very male dominated,” Kathi Tunheim said.
The Gustavus organization Women in Business Leadership (WIBL), of which Tunheim is a participant and leader, stems from the Gustavus Women in Leadership alumni organization and is beginning to show female students how to make their way in the business world.
“The best piece of advice I can give to students at Gustavus is to practice leading in a student organization on campus. Step up and be the leader of any type of group—recruit students, train and develop them and get results. You are more likely to be successful in the real world if you have the experience and confidence to lead others,” Tunheim said.
“Being part of WiBL for the past two years has helped me better understand workplace etiquette and what to expect in the business world after I leave Gustavus,” Junior Caitlin Bayer said.
The changing nature of Gustavus has been obvious to some—with more female involvement on campus and leadership positions in organizations, to voting in elections, their involvement as leaders has been noteworthy.
“Gustavus is still the same great Gustavus it was when I first came here, I would say it is just starting to sparkle a little more,” Co-President of WIBL and Senior Kelsey Kennedy said.
“I think it is beginning to have a more profound meaning to women specifically, as we are realizing that there are many Gustie women that have gone on to do incredible things and even more Gustie students who aspire to follow in their footsteps, and even create their own.”
What is Gustavus Women in Leadership and Women in Business Leadership at Gustavus?
Gustavus Women In Leadership (GWL) is a student/alumnae program that seeks to help the women of Gustavus (students, alumnae and staff) in their academic, professional and personal leadership development. Women in Business Leadership (WIBL) has a mission to prepare Gustavus graduates to be able to contribute and share their leadership talents, wherever they work and live.
I know the knowledge I gained from WIBL will help bring success in anyone’s future career path. That knowledge doesn’t just come from the events we hold; it comes from the energy and excitement put forth by the individual members and the alumni.
—Co-President Kelsey Kennedy
Why do you think WIBL is beneficial for students?
It is a helpful way to learn more about interviews, resumes, leadership, and help you further develop your own personal strengths.
—Vice President of Marketing in WIBL Amy Prasad
What is the next event happening with the WIBL and GWL?
The the 3rd Annual Gustavus Women in Leadership Conference “Are You For Real: The Importance of Authenticity” will be held on April 19, 2013. Transportation to the event at the American Swedish Institute will be provided. For more information, check out the website.