Claiming leadership to advance gender equity

Last week I was fortunate to co-present a webinar with Gail Crimmins and Marina Harvey for the Council of Australasian University Leaders of Learning and Teaching (CAULLT) – Gender equity is everybody’s business.

Gail Crimmins shared her research in progress about work experiences and career trajectories in universities across the UK which received an Athena Swan Charter between 2015 and 2020. Athena Swan is an accreditation and awards program for gender equity, diversity and inclusion in higher education.

In other words, these are universities that have been recognised for good practice in gender equity.

It’s not great news.

The findings reveal intersecting barriers to women’s (inclusively defined) career success in higher education, despite the implementation of organisation based gender equity plans.

Men are more likely to be:

  • promoted
  • encouraged to apply for promotion
  • in ongoing positions (rather than on fixed term contracts or casually)
  • academics (rather than professional or administrative staff)
  • in balanced research and teaching roles
  • managers.

For Australian figures showing similar results, the opening chapters of Marcia Devlin’s book Beating the Odds: A practical guide to navigating sexism in Australian universities (available on her website) offer sobering reading. Did you know that men are 86% more likely to to be in the professoriate? At the top of the hierarchy, men are 189% more likely to be a Vice-Chancellor or Chancellor of an Australian university. After a depressing start, the later chapters provide invaluable advice on how to get ahead despite the odds. I would describe the book as akin to having the voice of a mentor in your handbag.

In our webinar, Gail’s research findings were particularly interesting when it came to the extensive formal and informal encouragement and mentoring that men reported receiving for promotion. This was in stark contrast to the experiences reported by women. I look forward to seeing this research published so I can share it here.

In the second half of the session, Marina Harvey presented a strategy to address gender equity — claim leadership! — with resources that help staff to claim leadership in university contexts. This is based on the 6Es of distributed leadership (Jones and Harvey, 2017):

  1. Engage with a broad range of experts as well as positional leaders.
  2. Enable a context and culture of respect for and trust in individual contributions to develop in order to nurture collaborative relationships.
  3. Enact through processes, support and systems that encourage involvement.
  4. Encourage through activities that raise awareness through a range of supportive actions.
  5. Evaluate through a process that encourages engagement and collaboration.
  6. Support ever Emergent change.

In a recent paper, Challenge Accepted: Women claiming leadership in higher education learning and teaching, Sandra Jones and Marina Harvey (2022) extend this work to provide a roadmap for claiming leadership (in applications for jobs, promotions, awards, grants and fellowships).

How do you…

I will be reflecting on the following questions:

  • How do I build and maintain collaborative and collegial relationships?
  • How do I plan to assess the impact of collaboration?
  • How do I encourage reflective practice and actions?
  • How do I involve students in learning and teaching initiatives? (enable)
  • How have I engaged formal leaders in learning and teaching initiatives? (encourage)
  • How have I encouraged the engagement of external stakeholders and partners in my work?

Here are the slides from the session (other than Gail’s research in progress):

You can watch the 30 minute presentation here (note this ends abruptly as the workshop activity is not included):

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