How do you define her?

Words that we use to describe women vs. words that we describe men

One of the most challenging things when acknowledging any inequities is to balance the current situation with where we should be. In an ideal world, we would treat everyone with respect regardless of their gender, race, or physical characteristics – but the path towards equality isn’t always clear and easy to define.

An individual’s “social role” (e.g. man, woman, secretary, student, etc) have been defined based on perceptions and stereotypes that have evolved within a culture. “According to role congruity theory (Eagly and Karau, 2002), when a role and a person’s attributes match (or are congruent), that person is more likely to been seen as successful in that role.” [Alekalns and Adair, 2013] We are forcing others – and ourselves – to fit into stereotypes so that we are more comfortable with the social order.


One of the most influential people in higher-ed, Teri Bump, has spoken on how our society has pressured individuals to act in line with the gender biases and stereotypes they’re associated with. Males are expected to display agentic characteristics (e.g. dominance, assertiveness, competitiveness), and women are expected to display communal characteristics (e.g. friendliness, warmth, emotional expression, unselfishness). What is even more interesting is that we commonly use very different words to describe men and women. We typically start to describe a woman’s physical characteristics or use the words “nice’ or “sweet”, whereas men are a “good problem solver” or “knowledgeable”. No wonder studies state that “the male stereotype is more ‘socially desirable’ than the female stereotype”  [Best, 1980] in a social and business setting!

This brings us back to my earlier dilemma of balancing the status quo and taking action to make changes. I cannot change how everyone else defines others – but I can try to change how I do. With that – I would like to provide a list of outstanding individuals that I believe are changing the world of higher-ed along with Teri… but their names will not be mentioned. I’d rather promote their character than their name or gender. Please feel free to click on the links below to follow their lead into the future.

Person 1: This leader of digital technology and student engagement provides insight and is pioneering the future of higher ed. They’re also thoughtful and inspiring to others!

Person 2: A housing director known for their ambition, compassion, and reliability. They have a reputation for seeing the possibilities of the future and building up those around them. They will be a university president one day.

Person 3: This higher-ed pro is smart, assertive, and instrumental in finding ways to encourage others to succeed. Person 3 is also one of the most giving people I’ve ever met!

Person 4: They are leading student affairs through a passion for technology and customer service. They are brilliant, logical, and really really funny.

Person 5: This residence-life pro is known for their positive energy and open-mind. They are thoughtful and pro-active in changing the field of student-development. Bonus, Person 5 is a really good parent and their kids are adorable!

Person 6. This social media expert dominates the competition! They are brilliant, logical, and generous in helping others.

Person 7: A student engagement pro that is one of the best in the country. They are organized, strong, and diligent – all with being incredibly humble and supportive of others.

Person 8: They are an expert in higher-ed technology and can captivate any audience. They are smart, thoughtful, and loves to ask the questions that we’re all afraid to ask. Person 8 is leading us towards a better future.

Person 9: This residence-life director has a good mind for the business-side of things. They are honest, funny, and adventurous in trying new ideas to change how we look at student affairs.

Person 10: This higher-ed leader is a brilliant communicator that is driving us towards a better future. They perfectly balance ambition, creativity, and determination with a tremendous sense of humor and open mind.

Person 11: A student affairs pro with an unparalleled compassion for others. Their energy is contagious!

Person 12: Leading fraternity and sorority associations with imagination and persistence. Person 12 is ambitious and enterprising – and has an amazing blog.

Person 13: An energetic and enthusiastic higher-ed pro that perfectly balances pro-active independence and resourceful collaboration that leads us towards bigger and better things.

Person 14: This is a gregarious individual with a mind for digital marketing. They can be described as loyal, dependable, and very very entertaining on Twitter.

Person 15: This web-expert has a tremendous sense of humor! They are friendly, inventive, and fantastic to collaborate ideas with.

Resources & Further Reading

Olekalns, Mara, and Wendi Adair. Handbook of Research on Negotiation. Edward Elgar Pub, 2013. 221-247. eBook. <>

Williams, John, and Susan Bennett. “The Definition of Sex Stereotypes via the Adjective Check List i.” Sex Roles. 1.4 (1975): n. page. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <>.

Best, Deborah. “A Further Analysis of the Affective Meanings Associated with Male and Female Sex-Trait Stereotypes .” Sex Roles. 6.5 (1980): n. page. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <>.

“Positive Personality Adjectives List.” EnglishClub. Web. 28 Oct 2013. <>.

Bergsieker, Hilary, and Lisa Leslie. “Stereotyping by Omission: Eliminate the Negative, Accentuate the Positive.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 102.6 (2012): 1214-1238. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <>.

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