International Women’s Day (IWD) is annually on March 8th around the world to recognise the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, as well as to raise awareness about the ongoing struggle for gender equality which is still very present in this day and age.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is #EmbraceEquity – to get the world talking about why equal opportunities aren’t enough. As people, irrespective of our gender, we all begin our journeys from different places, so true inclusion and belonging requires equitable action… BUT… before we can climb the patriarchy to get to leadership, it’s kind of unfortunate that we must ask this, but… how can we #EmbraceEquity in higher education, and why?
First and foremost, ‘why’ shouldn’t be asked – but because inequality is still happening, an explanation will be given.
Promoting gender equality in education is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, education is a fundamental human right that should be accessible to all, regardless of gender. Secondly, education is a key driver of economic growth and development, and women’s equal access to education is essential for achieving sustainable development goals. Additionally, gender equality in education helps to break down gender stereotypes and biases, creating more inclusive and diverse societies. By promoting gender equality in education, we can empower women and girls to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities, and create a more just and equal world.
Okay, now that one’s out of the way, let’s look an overview of Women’s leadership in Higher Education.
Historically, women have faced significant barriers and challenges in attaining leadership roles in higher education in the UK – for example, until the 19th century, women were largely excluded from higher education altogether, and even after they were accepted, they faced discrimination and limited opportunities for career advancement has continued, leading to a persistent gender gap in leadership positions in higher education.
Things are looking up…
There have been positive trends and progress in promoting women’s leadership in higher education in recent years. The number of female Vice-Chancellors/Principals in UK universities has increased from 12 in 2013 to 37 in 2021, according to data from the university leaders’ association, Universities UK. Additionally, initiatives such as the Athena SWAN Charter, which recognises and promotes gender equality in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) subjects in higher education, have helped to address gender disparities in academic leadership positions.
But we’re not there yet.
There is still a fair amount of work to be done.
Women are underrepresented in senior leadership positions across all disciplines, with only 28.4% of professors in UK universities being women in the 2019/20 academic year, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).
Breaking this down a little further, the proportion of female professors varies across disciplines, with women comprising 50.5% of the academic workforce in the subject area of “medicine, dentistry, and health” but only 15.2% in the area of “engineering and technology”.
While there has been progress in increasing the representation of women in leadership positions in higher education in the UK, these statistics highlight the ongoing need for efforts to promote gender equality in the sector, especially with regards to the gender pay gap which also persists in higher education, with women on average earning less than men in senior leadership roles.
Promoting women’s leadership in higher education
It should go without saying: promoting women’s leadership in higher education is crucial for advancing gender equality and creating more diverse and inclusive academic environments. To increase women’s representation in leadership positions, there are various strategies and initiatives that could be implemented.
One strategy is to provide mentoring and sponsorship programs for women at different stages of their academic careers. These programs can offer guidance, support, and networking opportunities to help women advance into leadership positions. Additionally, targeted recruitment and promotion efforts can help to increase the representation of women in leadership roles. This includes advertising leadership positions more widely, ensuring job descriptions are gender-neutral, and reviewing promotion and tenure criteria to eliminate bias. However, this could prove tricky with certain advertising rules, regulations and laws in place when it comes to recruitment.
Allies and advocates can also play a crucial role in supporting women’s leadership in higher education. Male colleagues and senior leaders can use their privilege and influence to advocate for gender equality and promote the advancement of women. This can involve supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives, challenging gender stereotypes and biases, and amplifying the voices of women in leadership positions.
What’s working at the moment?
Not to reinvent the wheel, but there have been some successful initiatives and programs promoting women’s leadership in higher education worldwide. For example, the Athena SWAN Charter in the UK recognises and promotes gender equality in STEMM subjects in higher education, and has helped to address gender disparities in academic leadership positions, and there’s The Advancing Women in Leadership program at the University of California offers professional development opportunities for women in leadership positions across the University of California system.
Man, I feel like a woman!
Promoting women’s leadership in higher education is critical for advancing gender equality and creating more diverse and inclusive academic environments. By implementing strategies such as mentoring programs, targeted recruitment and promotion efforts, and advocating for gender equality, institutions can help to increase the representation of women in leadership positions. Allies and advocates also play an important role in supporting women’s leadership, and successful initiatives and programs can provide examples and inspiration for promoting women’s leadership in higher education.
Promoting women’s leadership in higher education is essential for achieving gender equality and creating more diverse and inclusive academic environments. While progress has been made in recent years, women continue to be underrepresented in senior leadership positions across all disciplines in higher education, highlighting the ongoing need for efforts to promote gender equality in the sector.
To increase women’s representation in leadership positions, various strategies and initiatives could be implemented, including mentoring and sponsorship programs, targeted recruitment and promotion efforts, and the support of allies and advocates. By promoting gender equality in education and increasing women’s representation in leadership positions, we can empower women and girls to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities, and create a more just and equal world.