In 1993, as a result of studies showing that women were not climbing career ladders in academia at the same speed or ease as their male counterparts, and based on their own experiences, thirteen women faculty and administrators took action as Transformational Leaders. They created BRIDGES as an affordable program for women to gain knowledge and experience in academic leadership. BRIDGES was and still remains the sole statewide leadership program exclusive to women faculty, staff, and administrators. In the beginning, the program’s goals were to:

  • Develop insights into leadership focusing on special skills and attributes women bring to their roles
  • Acquire an understanding of the many facets of colleges and universities
  • Refine and improve cross-cultural communication skills
  • Create a program of personal and professional development to benefit participants and their institutions

When it was launched, BRIDGES was a 10 week program comprised of a small number of participants from UNC Chapel Hill and NC State. Later, it was converted to a four weekend program and the range of participants was extended to include public and private institutions across NC. Originally, the focus was general leadership training including team building, skill development, expansion of knowledge, 360 degree assessment and balancing work/life demands in an academic setting. Over time, the curriculum expanded to more directly address leadership theory, breaking the glass ceiling, and diversity training. Throughout its history, the program has maintained a strong focus on work/life balance.

Where We Are Today

Today, BRIDGES is an inclusive professional development program dedicated to supporting cisgender or transgender women and nonbinary colleagues in higher education who seek to gain or strengthen their leadership capabilities, and/or individuals who demonstrate a commitment to supporting women and gender issues and equity in the academy. The overarching theme of the program is transformational leadership, fitting today’s leadership literature of change, context, and collaboration. Current topics include:

  • Balancing work/life demands
  • 360 degree assessment of participants
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • CV/Resume Reviews
  • Finance/Budgeting
  • Development/Advancement
  • Legal Issues
  • Public Speaking
  • Crisis Management
  • Negotiation
  • Human Resources
  • And more!

30 years after the founding of BRIDGES, there are still areas requiring improvement. 32% of college and university presidents in the United States are women (CUPA-HR 2020). While the representation of women in administration has risen to 51%, pay equity has remained virtually unchanged for the last 20 years with women being paid $0.93 for each $1.00 men in administrator positions were paid (CUPA-HR 2023).

Women are the majority of lecturers and instructors, but 44% of tenure track faculty and 36% of full professors are women (AAUP 2017). A mere 12.6% of college presidents are women of color (as of 2011) (The American College President, ACE, 2012; National Center for Education Statistics, 2014). BRIDGES is helping to close this gap, with 69% of BRIDGES graduates receiving promotions. Of those who received promotions, 56% believed that participating in BRIDGES had a moderate to high impact on receiving the promotion.

The BRIDGES leadership program is designed for individuals of any gender identity, from four-year North Carolina institutions of higher education, both public and independent, who want to position themselves for advancement in the academy and/or who demonstrate a strong interest or commitment to supporting women and gender equity in the academy. BRIDGES has been shown to be effective in helping participants create networks, balance personal and professional lives, and prepare for future administrative responsibilities. To date, there have been ~800 graduates of BRIDGES from all 16 UNC higher education institutions, and multiple private colleges and universities.