April 8, 2022
Female students outnumber their male counterparts on college campuses—a statistic that has held strong for years—but leadership ranks are often heavily stocked with men. The Community College of Denver, however, is an exception, with an all-female executive leadership team.
President Marielena DeSanctis, who joined the college in January 2021, says she inherited a largely female executive team, and as the team saw turnover, she filled the empty positions with women.
“I don’t know that I would say it’s been purposeful at all to have an all-female team,” she said. “I think as each position has come forward, and as I’ve worked with this team, it’s just a very happy coincidence that the very best people possible for these roles all happen to be female.”
Statistically speaking, DeSanctis is an anomaly. The majority of college presidents are white men, a trend that is slowly changing, but as a Latina, she is an outlier. Yet it’s her experience as a woman of color and someone who has broken through the glass ceiling in higher education—and in her past career as an engineer—that she said allows her to connect with a student body that skews female and Hispanic.
DeSanctis and her executive leadership team note the challenges women face as they try to carve out careers in higher education: they face pay disparities and rampant sexism, and many have the added pressures of accommodating a spouse’s career goals and caring for a family. A recent Gallup survey found that 28 percent of women in academe believe they’ve been passed over for a promotion because of their gender.
“Our whole leadership team has earned additional degrees while we worked full-time,” said Kathy Kaoudis, vice president of administrative services and chief financial officer at the Community College of Denver. “That’s really, I think, something that men don’t necessarily have to deal with. I think they usually end up getting the master’s or their doctoral degree right out of school, whereas women end up putting it off and then having to combine it with taking care of children and household and their job, which is not a small thing.”