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Women and leadership in academia

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Psychological and personal barriers

Hardly surprising, given the barriers, women hold back. Zulu (2007) reports on her subjects as suffering from lack of confidence, poor self-image, conflict with other roles and fear of success. McFann (2008) claims that women struggle with being liked, are reluctant to blow their own trumpet, and often feel like an imposter if there are few other women in their department.

There is one factor however that remains the same for women all over the world and which acts as a barrier: conflict with their domestic responsibilities. According to Özkanlı (2006), women in Turkey believe that there is no gender discrimination in promotion opportunities, but are often held back by conflict with their domestic roles, particularly if they lack support or have a difficult situation through divorce, or have to care for a disabled child. Australian female academics also tend to advance more slowly (Özkanlı and White, 2008).

Özkanlı also quotes studies which claim that women suffer from juggling too many roles – private and professional – which cause them to suffer overload, and which may lead to psychological and physical disorders. This is not helped by the fact that academic jobs have so many sides to them – research, teaching, administration – all of which demand intense application.

A survey of US academics' job satisfaction (Okpara et al., 2005), unsurprisingly revealed women were less content with their pay and promotion prospects than men. But what did emerge was that women found their jobs "fascinating, satisfying, respected, useful and challenging". Thus women may enjoy academic work because of the rewards it brings in teaching and research, and congenial colleagues (as may many men!). For some, the additional pressures that come with management and administration are just not appealing.