Julieta García credits her history-making turn as the first Latina to serve as a college president in the United States to the supportive women who believed in her leadership. But in the upper ranks of academia, García rarely encountered other women, particularly women of color, who held positions of power.

“I would complain about being the only woman on a board that I was sitting on or being the only Latina on a board and how that always happened to me,” García said.

Thirty-six years after García became president of Texas Southmost College, a role she held until 1991, when she left to lead the University of Texas at Brownsville, women leaders remain underrepresented in higher education. Overall, they make up just 22 percent of the presidents at elite research universities, and the numbers are even lower for women of color, who make up less than 5 percent of leaders at these institutions, according to a new study by the Women’s Power Gap Initiative at the Eos Foundation in partnership with the

At the nation’s 130 elite research universities, the study found, a gender gap exists at all levels — from presidents to tenured faculty positions. The disparity in leadership roles is even more pronounced because women have outnumbered men as students on college campuses since the 1970s and now earn the majority of doctorates.

“It used to be what they call a pipeline issue, where they just didn’t have enough women,” said García. The institutions she has led are not considered elite research universities, but she’s an advocate for more gender equity at these top schools, joining a panel last week with the organizations that commissioned the study.

“That’s not the case anymore,” García said of talent pipeline issues. “It was a good excuse at first. I think we all believed it, and it was an actual reality. But now what is so disturbing about this is that in spite of the fact that the pipeline is now much more healthy, in terms of diverse applicants, women with  experience are still not getting promoted.”

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