Just Say No: Busting the “Woman Can Do It All” Myth to Equip Women in Online Higher Ed for Career Longevity & Success

Concurrent Session 1
Leadership Equity and Inclusion

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This roundtable explores the message women receive across higher education and in society, to “do-it-all” and do so without imposing on anyone. Women's role in online higher education continues to increase, yet without the support to sustain. Come discuss how to implement practical strategies for success without sacrificing self-care.

Extended Abstract

The last two years of the COVID pandemic have completely disrupted many aspects of life; however, gender-based disparities, which while still definitely visible prior to the pandemic, have now been magnified. The COVID pandemic revealed how disparate the expectations remain for women of all backgrounds, but especially those with advanced degrees and those who work in higher education. In higher education, female faculty and administrators are still expected to be the caregiver to the children, climb the University ladder or obtain tenure, and be a homemaker. These leaders often face not just societal pressures but pressure they place upon themselves to do it all without ever asking for help. Demonstrating the need for additional discussion and research on this topic could not be easier--articles expressing this challenge and its fallout show up in our inboxes virtually daily; clickbait on this topic also litters our social media feeds. So, the good news is that people are ready to talk; the bad news is we are still short on solutions.

In this Round Table session, we will seek to move beyond a recognition of the problem and into imagining and developing solutions. To accomplish our goal, we will harness small group conversations at our tables to ask important questions and encourage attendees to share stories with their group. Participants will kick off the session by participating in an interactive activity as a large group designed to paint a collective picture of how the “do-it-all” myth impacts our lives today. Participants will then move into small groups, where they will reflect on their own experiences as higher education faculty and leaders, exploring key pressure points in their lives and receiving guidance and suggestions from others on how to mitigate and relieve those points. Then, we will shift back to a broader conversation to allow participants the opportunity to carefully consider their organizational culture and where it contributes to pressure its female employees face; they will also share best practices for methods that their organization has found to ease that burden. Finally, participants will consider the economic impact this approach has not only on individual companies but on the economy at large. 

The session will close with a practical application small group brainstorming session, offering individual participants immediately applicable avenues to “just say no” and to leave this conference ready to implement short-term adjustments while building towards longer-term gain within both their organizations and across higher education. Each group will note their practical application strategies, which will be compiled and shared out with all attendees.

The presenters will bring forward research-based practical application strategies for the group’s consideration, such as effective negotiation strategies. Snider’s (2002) Shattering Negotiation Myths: Empirical Evidence on the Effectiveness of Negotiation Style  actually showed that adversarial bargaining is not more effective than problem-solving. In fact Sinder (2002) found that using a problem solving approach is not only more effective, but during the negotiation the view of others is that problem solving is the best route. How does this impact women in higher education? 

According to Mari Barletta’s (2015) research, women are natural problem solvers - even when making purchasing decisions. Women seek options, gather information, and are more open to solutions. Barletta (2015) further states that women adjust to the context of the given situation as it changes. Why is this so important? Women are able to find options that may have not been previously considered. By tapping into the natural inclination to problem solvers women have a practical, well-researched, approach to bring into scenarios without continuing to take on additional responsibilities due to the societal pressures for women to simply be ‘agreeable’ (Weisberg, Deyoung, & Hirsh, 2011).

Weisberg, Deyoung, & Hirsh (2011) researched personality traits by gender and found women are often found to be more agreeable than men. Women in turn are less likely to say no and more likely to take on more.  Additional practical, researched, and applicable strategies include accepting desired constraints. It’s important to notice that desire is part of this strategy. And when the desired constraint is met asking for help from a partner and support system. 

In addition, we will reconsider how we define what “success” looks like when balancing a career and a family. We will think about the expectations we perceive of our parenting and our professional commitments and ask hard questions about both their feasibility and their necessity. For example, do mothers really have to create that Pinterest-ready school lunch for their children every day? Are we taking on work tasks that could be effectively delegated to others simply because we believe we “can do the better job”? Is the job another would do truly insufficient, or can we let go of some of the pressure of perfection?

Informing this session will be research we have seen related to trends emerging specifically for women who earn degrees and those working in higher education. Many women have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 emergency in a different way than just stereotypical roles such as nurses and childcare providers. Lack of paid leave, family caregiving responsibilities, traditional gender roles, and health concerns have placed many of the burdens of the pandemic squarely on the shoulders of women. Women have fought so hard for gender equity, and yet with a pandemic we see women leaving the workforce in waves never seen before. How does this movement impact not only women’s rights but also our economy? 

As the economy, and all institutions of higher learning, reshapes in the wake of Covid-19, important conversations must begin regarding what professional success looks like for women and how women can more effectively balance professional and personal pursuits. Women in higher education must be at the forefront of this conversation, finding ways to model balance and better equipping future generations of female leaders to advocate for equitable and manageable expectations and workplace environments. This roundtable will give attendees the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences and the experiences of other attendees, to network with others seeking to address the same concerns, to begin to envision long-term solutions to this ongoing disparity, and finally to walk away with some smaller, immediately applicable practical strategies for better balance.



Barletta, M., (2015, March 10). Why Can’t Women Make Up Their Minds? | Marti Barletta. Martibarletta.Com. http://martibarletta.com/why-cant-women-make-up-their-minds/ 

Schneider, A. K. (2002). Shattering Negotiation Myths: Empirical Evidence on the Effectiveness of Negotiation Style. Marquette Law Scholarly Commons. https://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/facpub/272/

Weisberg, Y. J., Deyoung, C. G., & Hirsh, J. B. (2011). Gender Differences in Personality across the Ten Aspects of the Big Five. Frontiers in psychology, 2, 178. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00178