Why does an association like NACAC, where a majority of members are women, need a Women in Admission Special Interest Group? The answer was apparent in research conducted in 2013 by Jennifer Dewar, who at the time was an associate director of undergraduate admissions at Duke University (NC). She uncovered that the point at which women become underrepresented in admission offices was between the middle management and senior leadership levels. At the time, men occupied 77 percent of dean positions while only 23 percent were held by women. This data was the kindling needed to formalize a group to address inequities in our profession.
The Women in Admission Special Interest Group (SIG) was created in 2018 and brought together the focuses of the Women Council for Admission Professions (WCAP) and the Wonder Women Facebook groups. The formal mission of the SIG is to support anyone who identifies as a woman to achieve success in the admission profession. The purpose of the group is to assist women in navigating the complexities of our profession including topics such as, but not limited to, sexism, equal pay, and work-life balance. The SIG also supports the retention and advancement of women in the admission field.
Typically, the Women in Admission SIG meets once a year at the NACAC national conference. But as everyone knows this past year was anything but typical. The pandemic, although challenging in so many ways, normalized virtual opportunities for women across the country to connect. As members grappled with a fast-changing and uncertain environment, the SIG wanted female-identifying professionals to know they were not alone during this difficult time. After a few casual virtual summer meetings, a plan was put in place for ongoing, monthly professional development.
Already eight months into the 2020–2021 academic year, the meetings have all focused on different topics impacting women. The virtual series opened in September with an opportunity to network, filling an important need within the void created by canceled summer and fall in-person conferences. In this meeting, members spent time brushing up and workshopping skills—all while expanding their own networks. This was followed by a much-needed October session on virtual presentation skills, with professional coach Pam Heffernan, to help women adapt to the new demands of their work.
Politics were the focus in an election month meeting, where the group was joined by female political leaders to have a conversation about how to get involved and make an impact in their own community or organization. In December the group picked up with “Taking Leave from the Work You Love,” a presentation on the complexity of parental leave.
Up next in January was a collaboration with the Black and African Diaspora SIG for an outstanding panel that tackled the advancement of Black women in the admission profession. This was the most-attended virtual session to date where women were treated to some real talk about the experiences of Black women in our profession. The panel was comprised of NACAC’s Dr. Crystal E. Newby, Dr. Monica Terrell Leach from North Carolina Central University, Kristen S. Harris from New York City’s Department of Education, and Jodi Hester from Woodward Academy (GA). Two chairs of the Black and African Diaspora SIG, Courtney Vaughn from Elon University (NC) and Tela Thigpen from Freedom Prep High School (NJ), moderated the session, which was well received and appreciated by the attendees. Responses to this session included: “This session is everything! This is the energy that was sorely needed,” “We need to pay you for weekly motivational talk—thank you!” and “Thank you all so much. I am so honored to have listened to your perspectives. This field is better because we have you!”
The purpose of the group is to assist women in navigating the complexities of our profession including topics such as, but not limited to, sexism, equal pay, and work-life balance. The group also supports the retention and advancement of women in the admission field.
February’s meeting was a discussion of We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie led by secondary school admission professional Stephanie McCaine. Members shared whether they identify with the term feminist and discussed other topics, including thoughts on gender norms and culture.
With our most recent session teaching us all how to identify impostor syndrome in ourselves and others with presenters Amy Cembor at Providence College (RI), Leykia Nulan with Mount Holyoke College (MA) and Emily Roper-Doten of Olin College of Engineering (MA), in the upcoming months, there is one more opportunity for our female-identifying colleagues to join the Women in Admission SIG:
Register online or by emailing the co-leaders.
The Women in Admission SIG appreciates being able to offer virtual programming on a wide variety of topics. Knowing there are many sub-populations of women, the goal of the series is to offer programs highlighting multiple identities, different sides of the desk, and various positions on the career ladder. Much more work needs to be done and there are many more topics to tackle. The group also looks forward to future collaboration with many of NACAC’s SIGs. The amazing women who share their time and talent as presenters, panelists, and moderators are encouraging and motivating to attendees who show up each month to support one another. It is the epitome of women supporting women.
NACAC Special Interest Groups (SIGs) nurture the growing diversity in our association by providing “micro” communities within which members can network and add value to their NACAC membership experience. It’s easy to get involved with one or more of NACAC’s Special Interest Groups. Learn more about a SIG, join the SIG’s social media groups. and contact the SIG’s leaders. NACAC members and nonmembers are welcome to join the Women in Admission SIG. Learn more about the SIG on the NACAC website and join the Facebook or Exchange group.
The SIG is excited for our next in-person meeting at the NACAC national conference and plans to continue to offer themed virtual meetings this coming year. Themes will be picked from hot topics from a variety of higher education social media sites. Women in admission are encouraged to share what is affecting them and reach out about areas where they could use support.
This summer, the SIG will conduct independent research on some of the areas most impacting women in the field. Updating Dewar’s metrics eight years later, the Women in Admission SIG is hopeful to see evidence of a shift in gender balance within leadership roles. In addition, more data will help pinpoint muchneeded areas for improvement in the admission field.
Christina Berardi is senior associate dean of admissions communications and marketing\at Salve Regina University (RI) and Dr. Erin Earle is director, campus visit experience/welcome center at the University of Rhode Island. They are co-chairs of NACAC’s Women in Admission Special Interest Group.