As a research student interested in going into academia in a field that has become my passion, I have realised that I have been keeping an eye on the development of women in Higher Education (HE).
My research focuses on identifying organisational barriers that are still affecting women aspiring to advance into leadership positions and developing sustainable strategies to mitigate those barriers and bridge the gender gap.
Research conducted by Advance HE shows that the percentage of female academic staff is at 45.3% and declines at senior management levels to 27.5%. 21% of women are heads of institutions in the UK, which is slightly better than the rest of the world.
I acknowledge the tremendous improvement with regard to women in leadership positions in HE over the last decade. It goes to show the belief of institutional heads of the benefits of incorporating more women into the HE system. Albeit, I remain cautious with my optimism because of the barriers that still exist, which often act as a stumbling block to the progress.
Agreed, more women are breaking the ‘glass ceiling’, but there are still various reasons why there is a gender disparity in HE. Research shows that one of the reasons is that women lack the confidence in themselves to apply for such positions. However, it is my opinion that women also lack confidence in the institutional infrastructure and practices. They simply do not believe that they would be given an equal and fair opportunity during recruitment and promotion stages.
The vicious cycle of gender inequality will continue without conscious efforts from institutions to take dedicated action towards retaining valuable and passionate talent within the HE system. The endorsement from heads of institutions is crucial to lead a cultural shift and develop an inclusive learning and working environment that is built on diversity at all levels.
Therefore, we should consider developing and adopting an inclusive system that promotes equal representation and supports the progress of students into academia, and assist staff to achieve their career ambitions. This will be achieved through developing an accommodating and flexible culture, and an inclusive working environment. Most importantly, these policies must be consistently implemented.
In order to develop a reliable and inclusive working environment a systematic check of policies needs to be conducted. This is to ensure an efficient implementation process, and a review of the effectiveness and sustainability of those policies. This is necessary to build a diverse and inclusive institutional infrastructure, which will have a tremendous impact. Then, we would begin to see the confidence women have in not just themselves but in their institutions.