22 SES 13 C, Coming In From The Cold? Women Leaders In Higher Education
This symposium explores the nature of women’s leadership in Europe and beyond, through case studies of women leaders in four universities in Australia and the UK. The authors investigate the nature of work undertaken by women leaders, their leadership styles and relationships with colleagues and senior management. The papers aim to identify key features of the organizational contexts and cultures; and highlight factors which promoted and supported, or hindered and discouraged, women in leadership roles.
Although there has been a rapid expansion in the numbers of women students in universities worldwide, and women now represent a third of all academics, there continue to be low numbers of women in leadership positions (HESA, 2010). Previous studies of women in higher education confirm the continuing under-representation of women in management and leadership roles, within a context characterised by UNESCO’s report on women in higher education (2002) as a ‘chilly climate’ for women academics worldwide.
The international picture is that fewer than 10% of (full) professors are women (HESA, 2010) and a similar position exists for the most senior positions: just below 7% of women lead universities globally (ibid.). A range of contributory socio-cultural factors have been identified (UNESCO, 2002), including: the hierarchical nature of universities, traditionally male leadership styles, lack of female role models, male resistance to change, gendered division of labour and in some cases the persistence of overtly discriminatory practices. A number of other recent studies (e.g. Airini et al., 2011), also emphasise the contradictions and difficulties for women within university contexts increasingly driven by performativity, quality measures, business models and financial targets, characterised as new managerialism, despite women’s greater visibility in senior positions.
Morley introduces the ‘leaderist turn’, stating that, ‘leadership … has replaced management in post-neo-liberal HE change discourse’ (2012: 2). Concepts of leadership idealise personal qualities such as resilience and professional attributes of being able to inspire, generate improvement, or generate new business. Scholarliness largely does not feature in these discourses, nor does reflexivity. Increasingly, in spheres such as, health, social care and teacher education (Smith, 2011), are women who, operating at full stretch, are not only expected to be research active but also to exemplify innovative, evidence-informed and research-driven practice; and to make such practice look desirable. However, recent European studies (e.g. Ion and Folch, 2009) also report on women leaders’ ability to use flexible and transformative leadership styles to bring about affirmative organizational change.
Within feminist and sociocultural learning frameworks (e.g. Blackmore and Sachs, 2007; Hey, 2011)), we will argue that women leaders tend to be constructed and construct themselves according to the prevailing organizational milieu and ethos of their institution, as well as their personal and professional histories, experiences and characteristics. We analyse the space occupied by both ‘leaderism’ and ‘scholarliness’ from perspectives of being women well-embedded in higher education environments, and from positions of conventional academic success. We present evidence from three dimensions: research leadership; the place of emotion; and development of community relations. The symposium offers exemplifications of the contemporary women-leaderist space.
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