Visiting professor shares advice for supporting women in academia

Trudy Hanson, professor at West Texas A&M University, speaks to communications students and faculty on March 17. She focused her address on confidence and creating a safe workplace for people to fail as well as succeed. (Kamree Laursen)

A West Texas A&M University professor spoke to BYU communications students and faculty on creating a safe workplace to succeed as well as fail. Her March 17 address focused on women in the academic workplace.

Trudy Hanson is the 1999 Gender Studies Scholar of the Year. She teaches speech, storytelling rhetorical criticism and gender communication. She also researches gender portrayals in popular media and women in leadership. She has published numerous public speaking textbooks.

From 1971–2021, the amount of women earning college degrees has grown from 7% to 59.5%. This increase shows how women are becoming more prominent in the workplace because they are using their degrees to get positions within a company, Hanson said.

Although this is a positive increase, Hanson said that as women are advancing and are becoming eligible for leadership positions, the percentage of women accepting these higher positions is decreasing.

“Women are less likely to apply for advancement unless they meet all the criteria,” Hanson said.

On the contrary, Hanson said men will apply to the same advancements even if they only meet 50% of the requirements.

Hanson said many women struggle with perfectionism which she called a “confidence killer.” Women tend to hold back until they are sure they are perfectly ready for whatever challenge they have to face.

In a research study she examined, Hanson read that when employees were asked to report their own performance, half of all women reported self-doubt.

Hanson relates this to the confidence gap between men and women: Women and girls tend to avoid taking risks and making mistakes because of their fear of failure, while men and boys tend to absorb the scolding from failure and learn to grow from it.

“We need to, both for our students and professors, create an environment where they can take risks,” Hanson said.

According to Hanson, women need to believe in themselves and accumulate confidence. As this confidence increases, it will stimulate action and increase their ability to flourish.

Hanson said if more women were in leadership positions in colleges and universities, there would be more democratic, communicative and inclusive leadership.

“As we talk about women in academia, we need to make it safe to succeed as well as a place that is safe to fail,” Hanson said.

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