Women in the Profession

By Melissa Brock


Stephanie Krusemark, chief enrollment management and marketing officer at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, thinks women were built for admission work. “We can handle it. We can find peace and joy in times of stress and pressure because we understand the important role we have in our prospective students’ and our team members’ lives,” she said.

Statistically, women dominate the school counseling and admission fields. Nationwide, there were three female school counselors for every male in 2012, according to the College Board. The total number of women school counselors added up to 78 percent. Women made up 79 percent of middle school counselors and 77 percent of high school counselors. Seventy-eight percent of women served as public school counselors and 76 percent held the title of private school counselor.

Yet women and minority racial/ethnic groups are underrepresented in key segments of the admission profession, according to NACAC’s Career Paths for Admission Officers report, released in July 2014.

The survey of 1,492 NACAC members (women accounted for 61 percent of the sample) found that women are overrepresented at entry- and mid-level positions. Seventy percent of women are counselors and assistant/associate directors but are more underrepresented in more senior positions.

Women comprised 59 percent of all college undergraduates. But in admission offices, 53 percent were directors of admission and 40 percent were vice presidents/deans of admission or enrollment management.

Non-whites are underrepresented at all points on the admission career trajectory, and the issue only becomes more pronounced at higher position levels.

The survey’s findings reflect national trends. Between 1962 and 2000, women’s labor force participation increased dramatically, from 37 percent to 61 percent. Beginning in 2000, the positive trend slowed and even reversed, according to the Brookings Institution. The share of women in the workforce fell from 60.7 percent employment in 2000 to 57.2 percent in 2016.

These statistics apply to various races and ethnicities, educational backgrounds, ages, marital statuses, and for women with and without children. The current decline seems to move directly opposite the trends observed in other major Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies. Research from Brookings suggests that on a national level, the reasoning could be related to the US’s lack of a paid maternity leave policy and other family-friendly policies.

Despite the downward trend, there’s good news: As a whole, women continue to outpace men in terms of educational attainment. Women continue to dominate higher education and outnumber men on college campuses. The fall 2018 study by the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 11.2 million women would attend a college or university compared to just 8.7 million men. Women are significantly more likely than men to hold a bachelor’s degree by the time they turn 29.

“While as women we are unique and diverse, I believe we approach leadership differently than men. By this, I mean we have an unspoken and innate emotional intelligence that allows us to multitask and think 10 steps ahead at any given moment. In fact, this is our normal mode of operation,” said Krusemark.

Gender Earning Gap
Tina Berardi, senior associate dean of admissions at Salve Regina University (RI) and Erin Earle, associate director of undergraduate admission at the University of Rhode Island, co-lead NACAC’s Women in Admission Special Interest Group. They say that one concern continues to resurface among women in the group: Pay equality and advocating for pay increases.

On the national scene, women on average continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2017, female full-time, year-round workers made only 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

If change continues at the same slow pace, it will take 40 years—until 2059—for women to finally reach the same rate of pay as men. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower.

NACAC’s Career Paths for Admission Officers report results indicated that, across all admission professionals, males were more likely to be the highest earners. Nearly 30 percent of male admission officers earned more than $95,000, compared to only 11 percent of women.

However, among VPs and deans, very similar proportions of men and women were among the highest earners, at more than $135,000.

Earle said she hears women say that they believe they’re both intentionally and unintentionally getting passed over for opportunities. She also believes that women are known to negotiate less and don’t always ask for what they want.

Berardi said it’s hard for people to guess what the benchmark salary is for their position, skill set, or educational level. “A lot of the unknowns leads to a lot of uncertainty, especially with the negotiations in terms of getting a job or in terms of a promotion,” she said. She’s heard anecdotally from women who feel men in their offices are getting paid more, though they have the same amount of experience and education as the women.

Berardi also thinks there are lingering beliefs that men are better at math and data—a crucial skill to have as a higher-level professional in the admission field. “These are stereotypes which need to be broken across the board,” she said.

Work-Life Balance
The Career Paths for Admission Officers report found that young admission professionals voiced concerns about work-life balance more frequently than any other group. This may result from the heavier travel schedules of newer professionals. Among the young professionals interviewed, the most frequently cited frustrations and complaints included burn-out resulting from a hectic pace and long periods of travel, growing emphasis on encouraging more students to apply, low salaries, no upward mobility, and lack of work-life balance.

Working Mothers in the Profession
Young admission professionals aren’t the only ones who strive to effectively find a work-life balance. Mothers in the field also feel the strain.

“I think that as a woman, the societal expectation is that we are the default parent and spouse for the mental load. The mental load is that concept that someone is finding you responsible for all these extra things that you didn’t sign up for,” said Colleen Ganjian, an independent counselor and the founder of DC College Counseling who is mom to a first-grader and a 2-year-old. “I’m making sacrifices, but I don’t feel that I can do the same kinds of things that a man would be able to do with this position. I’m the one going on field trips for the kids and bringing birthday cupcakes,” she said.

Berardi said, “From my personal experience as I’ve moved up in this field, I have children and I would hear very frequently from my closest colleagues and others in the field, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this with children. How do you do that?’ These messages over and over again make women start to think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do this if I’m thinking of having a family.’”

On a national scale, Hunter College (NY) professor Pamela Stone studied a sample of 54 female high-achievers, according to the Harvard Business Review. The women pursued their careers an average of 11 years; 60 percent worked well past the birth of their second child. None were fired or pushed out of their position. Still, 90 percent left not to care for their families, but because of workplace problems, mostly frustration and long hours. Two-thirds of those who left tried part-time work but found that part-time work often meant 40 hours of work for 20 hours of payment. Factoring even more into decisions to opt out entirely was the inability to work part-time without being marginalized.

Krusemark, however, dispels the idea that admission work is not family-friendly or conducive to women. “It is true that our work does not happen within the parameters of the typical nine-to-five paradigm,” she said. “Our work is fluid and aligned to meet our students where they’re at and when they’re available. While this is no doubt a demanding role that asks for ultimate flexibility, this flexibility can offer a unique opportunity to have alternative schedules to accommodate and show up to support one’s family,” Krusemark said. “Women’s default mode of multitasking and future-thinking allows us to find balance in our work and to model the balance to others when we are in leadership roles.”

Technology and Time Management
Technological advances allow admission professionals and independent counselors to move freely to where students are. It’s possible to connect with students through What’s App, FaceTime, and live stream on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Katherine Price, independent counselor for College Mindset in Denver, works with students all over the country and has learned to set boundaries. She calculated that in one year, she drove 7,000 miles just to meet students in the Denver metro area. “Whenever it’s appropriate, I say, ‘Let’s Facetime instead of driving to meet.’ When we don’t need to have a face-to-face conversation, we’ve jumped on Facetime. Having students in different time zones helps me spread out my work hours. I can meet with my students in Florida at 1 p.m. here.”

Ganjian said it’s all about setting up systems (with or without technology) to make sure time management goes hand-in-hand with success. She uses Asana for project management to set recurring tasks and non-negotiable requirements.

Reaching Out
Ganjian finds she can manage it all by saying “no” and asking for help, too. As a mother, she said that part of the equation was important for her. “I have a cleaning lady that comes every week. Both of my children are in school full time and I have an au pair who handles early morning and into the evenings,” she said. “There’s no more scrambling when they need to get somewhere on time and ‘Oh, shoot, I was supposed to be on drop-off,’” Ganjian laughed.

Christine Voice, Kohler Public Schools (WI) high school counselor and director of college and career advising, found out firsthand what it was like to have to utilize other support systems in her life because she recently broke her tibia. She’s on crutches and can’t put any weight on her leg. She can’t carry laundry, can’t cook dinner and ended up hiring a cleaning person. “My husband said, ‘I had no idea how much you really did,’” she said with a smile.

Career Goals
In the context of developing career goals, Earle said that people in the admission profession need to be focused and enjoy the interpersonal aspects of working with families, colleagues, and other constituents, while at the same time be salespeople. “It’s a unique skill set that admission counselors must have,” she said. She agrees that it’s not always easy for women in the profession to plan out their career goals right from the get-go.

Berardi said, “We get a ton of questions about career movement and résumé-building. We get a lot of questions about work-life balance from women who have children and don’t have children, and especially as women are embarking on how to balance things with the onset of introducing children into their lives.”

Voice said her mentors were key to guiding her career goals. She credits her mentors for asking her questions like, “Have you considered this? How can we get you to the next level?” After reflecting on these questions, she said of her goals, “I think they absolutely fell into my lap.”

The Career Paths for Admission Officers survey results suggest that both gender and race/ethnicity have an effect on the career trajectories of admission professionals.

This pattern suggested that women are choosing to remain at the associate/assistant director level, finding it difficult to advance beyond the mid-level position or leaving the profession at this point on the career path. The study suggested that improving the gender balance in the most senior-level admission positions may require focused education, training, and mentorship.

Price said, when she was working in admission, she has colleagues who would advocate for themselves by requesting to work from home one day a week or do more local travel because of family needs. “I’m sure I would have gone down that same path had I stayed,” she said. “I keep going back to why. It’s important to look at society in general and what kind of culture we’re creating.”

Berardi said that every day, all professionals need to advocate for themselves to expand their skill sets, try new things, and get the most out of their professional experience.

Challenges for Minority Women
Women of color continue to make strides in educational attainment and advanced degrees in general. “Our representation in senior administrative positions such as enrollment leadership or even college presidencies is still sadly lacking,” said Krusemark, who holds a PhD in higher education administration with an emphasis in diversity and higher learning from the University of Denver.

In the 2017 American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers survey of Chief Enrollment Officers, chief enrollment management officers today reported an age range between 45 and 54 years old. The gender identity and ethnic/racial profile identified as male in more than slightly half of the survey respondents; almost nine in 10 self-identify as white and three percent identify as Hispanic or Latinx.

Krusemark said it’s not only necessary to diversify those who lead institutional strategy and inform policy—it will become the distinguishing factor of institutions who will survive and thrive during and through the major shifts occurring in higher education. “[It’s all driven by the] increased recognition of authentic self-identification by culture, race, ethnicity, spirituality, gender, and sexual orientation in our college student populations,” said Krusemark.

Avenues of Support
The Women Council for Admission Professional (WCAP)’s Facebook cover photo slogan? Well-behaved women seldom make history. Krusemark puts it another way: “As Beyoncé so eloquently states in her song, ‘Who run the world? Girls.’”

Whether you’re an admission professional, school counselor, or independent school counselor, here are some ways you can share ideas and talk about your joys and struggles in the profession.

Women in Admission Special Interest Group
The Women in Admission Special Interest Group (SIG) came about organically, said Earle and Berardi. They saw equality issues and heard anecdotal concerns from women in the admission profession. They began by launching the Women’s Council for Admission Professionals group on Facebook.

“We had a great response. We have over 1,500 in that group that support each other, share information, and help each other through day-to-day obstacles or general support in the field,” said Berardi. Berardi and Earle clearly saw there was a need on the national level to come together to support each other. “We were approved to be a special interest group for NACAC, which allows us to have a large annual meeting at the national conference each year,” said Berardi.

The SIG’s mission 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 the 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.

Women Council for Admission Professionals Facebook Group
The Women Council for Admission Professionals (WCAP) Facebook group is a network of admission, school and independent counselors and community-based organization employees. Group members are committed to developing and supporting women as professionals and leaders in all aspects of higher education, including institutional and professional organizations. All people who identify as women are welcomed to the council, including seasoned, mid-level, and new professionals.

Find a Mentor
Voice said mentors are crucial—whether they’re male, female, or non-binary. She said it’s important to have mentors who can help you determine how to attain a work-life balance before pushing forward professionally.

Price agreed. She said she’s always sought out support systems and mentors that can help her frame any questions and issues she has in a better context. She’s had questions about work-life balance before and accessed her mentors. “For example, a mentor I have in the field, while he doesn’t have children, said, ‘Let me put you in touch with a bunch of people who have done it.’”

Earle said, “There’s a gap for women here: How to get a mentor, how to find a good mentor. Our next year’s goal is to set up some good mentorship opportunities if your supervisor isn’t someone you can turn to for those things.”

Women at Work at the NACAC National Conference
On Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, 8 a.m. – 11 a.m., join other women at the NACAC National Conference in Louisville. Whether you’re a woman at work or support women at work, discover your strengths, find your voice, use your passion, and lead more effectively. Learn alongside some of your admission counterparts and business professionals at varying levels of experience.

Melissa Brock is a freelance writer and lead gen editor at Benzinga. She spent 12 years working in the admission office at Central College (IA), her alma mater.

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