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Women and leadership in academia

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Strategies for change

Kate White is pessimistic about change in the next decade or so, believing that: "The real issue is the under-representation of women as full professors, the recruitment pool for female senior managers. It has been estimated that at the present rate of progress it will take 50 years for women in the UK to achieve parity with men in the professoriate, and 45 years in Australia".

However, there have been plenty of positive suggestions as to what both organizations and individuals can do, and some are listed below.

  • Pay comparable salaries for comparable work responsibilities (Opkara et al., 2005).
  • Ensure that selection and promotion are transparent and based on objective criteria.
  • Recognize that women's careers will be interrupted through demands of parenting, and adopt family-friendly policies, such as flexible working. Talking about the particular situation of Turkey, Özkanlı (2006) suggests that a solution to role conflict lies in the adoption of more "democratic" family lifestyles, with shared responsibilities, hired household and childcare help. The closeness of Turkish families, with grandparents willing to help, is a great advantage.
  • Provide opportunities for staff development and highly visible assignments – for example, being involved with technological innovation.
  • Recognize the value of excellent teaching, and reward accordingly. On the other hand, research is likely to remain the way of getting ahead, and women should be trained in research and encouraged to build up a good portfolio (Mabokela, 2001; Mabokela and Mawila, 2004; Okpara et al., 2005).
  • Higher education institutions should become, where they are not already, aware of gender issues; equal opportunities policies should be put in place where they are not (Mabokelae, 2001). Gender issues are an organizational, and not merely a woman's problem.
  • Support from mentors and networking are invaluable. For example, in South Africa, Thuthuka is a mentoring initiative which mixes historically advantaged and disadvantaged universities.

Okpara et al. (2005) see creating an equal environment through comparable salaries, mentoring, etc., as essential to ensure a talented and motivated workforce. Their conclusions are for the USA, however it is difficult to see that the same observations might not apply the world over.