woman holding up fist during college commencement ceremony
Story Diversity

Shattering the Glass Ceiling

Hazel Kelly

The CSU is a trailblazer in providing opportunities for women at the highest levels of leadership.

woman holding up fist during college commencement ceremony

​​​At a time when only about 30% of the nation's higher education institutions are led by women, the CSU serves as a leader in diversity and gender parity with women presidents at more than half of its 23 campuses. But it wasn't always that way. In 2013, only three CSU campuses had women presidents.  Thanks in part to the leadership and legacy of Chancellor Timothy P. White, the CSU remains committed to growing diversity and inclusion university-wide, including other key campus leadership roles.

“The influence of these women leaders extends beyond Cal State campus boundaries and into the broader communities they serve," says White. “They are building and strengthening partnerships with elected officials, business leaders, local school districts and other community groups to help lift the local and regional economies—indeed, the state and national economies—and to increase educational access and opportunity for all."

Chico State and San Francisco State are two shining examples with women in three significant leadership roles: president, provost and athletic director.  

At Chico State, President Gayle Hutchinson, Provost Debra Larson and Director of Athletics Anita Barker, are three senior women leaders who are blazing the trail for others. In fact, Barker is in her 18th year as the athletic director for the campus's 13 intercollegiate athletics teams—a role that continues to be male-dominated across the country. Only about 20 percent of universities at NCAA colleges have female athletic directors. With Barker leading the way, Chico State Athletics has been the recipient of five California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Robert J. Hiegert Commissioners' Cups over the past decade. The award is presented to the conference's member institution with the best overall athletics performance during the academic year.

President Hutchinson and Provost Larson both shared their personal leadership journeys on stage at Chico State's “Women Like You" Leadership Symposium in February 2019. Both women credited the creation of Title IX in affording them opportunities to compete in sports—a key component of their resiliency and success.

Hutchinson shared her story of persistence and resilience in the face of many challenges: “I worked my way up through the ranks. Barriers come, barriers go, I remain persistent in believing in my higher need to give back and to help educate for those in the future. Especially young women coming up."

At San Francisco State, women also hold these three leadership roles. In 2019, President Lynn Mahoney became the first woman president appointed by the CSU Board of Trustees in the campus's history, joining Provost Jennifer Summit and Director of Athletics Stephanie Shrieve-Hawkins.

President Mahoney told SF State magazine, “Since I arrived, I have been struck by the number of students, male and female, who have noted how important it is to them to have a female president… I was lucky to come up through fields in which women were supported. So I'm exploring what we can build here. It's not just leadership programs for women, but also for groups that are starkly underrepresented in leadership positions." 

Athletics Director Shrieve-Hawkins was also quoted in the magazine: “To see a leader who's female is life changing for the students. It is exciting that right now at SF State we have a president who's female, a provost who's female, a director of athletics who's female. We're modeling inclusive leadership." 

Today the CSU is the most women-led four-year university in California. With women representing more than half of its student body, the CSU continues to improve the diversity of leadership and provide opportunities for all women to serve as leaders in their disciplines and communities at large through a high-quality education.

Learn more about women leadership at the CSU: Inspiring: The 12 Women Presidents of the California State University