Women Should be More Represented in University Leadership Positions | Vixaty Phompanya

“Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power. We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture. Only when we see women’s rights as our common objective, a route to change that benefits everyone, will we begin to shift the balance.” (UN Secretary-General António Guterres, 2019) 

When it comes to leadership, the notion of masculinity and the belief that men are better than women are still prevalent today. Although much effort has been made to ensure the representation of women at all levels of governance, they are still under-represented in many government and non-government organizations, specifically in positions of leadership (Kiamba, 2008). According to the UN Women, only 24 percent of all national parliamentarians were women as of November 2018, and in January 2019, only 11 women are serving as Heads of State, and 10 are serving as Heads of Government.1 In the area of Higher Education, women are also underrepresentation in leadership positions. Only 13% of higher education institutions in the 27 European Union countries were headed by women (Morley, 2014). In Southeast Asia, the British Councilcommissioned research (2014) found that women in university leadership positions are notably missing2. In Bangladesh, 0,01% of Vice-Chancellors are women, 0.04% in Pakistan, and 3% in India (Morley & Crossouard, 2014). In Europe, 18% of full university professors are women, in India 26%, and 27% for Australia.3 Morley (2012) also noted that there was not a single woman as the head of a university in Hungary and Luxembourg in 2009.

This evidence has shown that female participation in the leadership positions of the university is lagging behind their male counterparts. It reflects not only continued inequalities between men and women, but also missed opportunities for women to influence and contribute to the universities of the future (Morley, 2012). Therefore, I strongly believe that there is an urgent need to encourage, empower, and engage more women to take leadership positions and senior academic roles at the university level in order to advance the Agenda 2030. This is particularly relevant with regards to SDG 4, which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, as well as the SDG 5 on Gender Equality. As an analysis of the data from the UN (2017) has already proven that Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment is a key accelerator of SDGs, it has a significant impact on development work in any country or context (United Nations, 2018).

Why is engaging more women in university leadership positions significant? According to Burkinshaw (2015), women’s representation in education senior leadership communities is essential because not only will more women change the landscape for all women, it will also bring diversity to leadership communities and their decision making, thereby making the organizational culture more inclusive and of benefit to all. The White House Project Report (2009) also argued that when prominent female academics participate in the research, it can affect the nature of the questions that are asked and the findings. Women in top-level leadership positions and senior faculty positions in academia provide male students, faculty, and staff an important opportunity to work with talented women – an experience that will prove increasingly valuable as the overall gender balance in the workforce change. Thus, leaders can serve to bring out the best in women of not only this generation but several generations to come.4 Having women in education leadership positions as role models can help encourage female student retention, which is particularly important in countries with low educational attainment for girls. (Monitoring Report Global Education, 2017). Furthermore, women in leadership roles of higher education would contribute a different perspective to boost economic growth and sustainability (Awang-Hashim, 2016). Women university leaders could also “create a safer working environment for the rest of women in the university which would increase their productivity.5

However, empowering women in a leadership position is a multifaceted and diverse process in higher education. Women have potential in the academy, but they have not climbed career ladders with the same speed or ease as their male counterparts (Flood, Johnson, & Wilder, 2010). As such, women blame themselves for the absence of success in the promotion field, or their incompetence in managing the conflicting demands of their various priorities long-term (Burkinshaw, 2015). Recently, several approaches and recommendations have been discussed by scholars to support women in leadership positions. For instance, the “Three Fixes” summarized by Morley (2013):

  • Fix the women: Enhancing women’s confidence and self-esteem, empowerment, capacity building, encouraging women to be more competitive, assertive, and risktaking.
  • Fix the organization: Gender mainstreaming such as gender equality policies, processes, and practices; challenging discriminatory structures, gender impact assessment, audits, and reviews; introducing work/life balance schemes including flexible working. 
  • Fix the knowledge: Identify bias, curriculum change, for example, the introduction of gender as a category of analysis in all disciplines, introduction of gender and women’s studies.

In conclusion, women are under-represented in leadership positions in higher education institutions in most of the countries around the world. Therefore, urgent action is needed to get more women in leadership positions. Some evidence mentioned above has already demonstrated why women representation in higher education leadership is significant. In my perspective, the summary given by Morley (2013) is realistic, logical and covered all relevant areas. Adopting these three approaches in higher education institutions should be considered as a potential method of increasing female representation in Higher Education leadership positions.

1 UN Women. (2019). Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation. Retrieved from http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures [2019-0418]

2 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/south-asian-women-missing-out-on-university-leadership- roles/2018426.article [2019-04-18]

3 https://gem-report-2017.unesco.org/en/chapter/gender_monitoring_leadership/ [2019-04-18]

4 https://www.in.gov/icw/files/benchmark_wom_leadership.pdf [2019-04-19]

5 https://www.al-fanarmedia.org/2018/12/arab-women-are-left-out-of-university-leadership/ [2019-04-18] 



Awang-Hashim, R., Mohammad, N., & Kaur, A. (2016). Women Leadership in Higher Education: Can the Glass Ceiling be broken?, (December).

Burkinshaw, P. (2015). Higher Education, Leadership and Women Vice Chancellors Fitting into Communities of Practice of Masculinities. Palgrave Macmillan.

Flood, C., Johnson, C. W., & Wilder, J. (2010). Bridging the Gap : 16 Years of Academic Leadership Development for Women. NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 3(1), 163–181. https://doi.org/10.2202/1940-7882.1049

Kiamba, J. M. (2008). Chapter 1 Women and Leadership Positions : Social and Cultural Barriers to Success. Journal of Transnational Women’s & Gender Studies, 2008, 6, 7– 26.

Monitoring Report Global Education. (2017). Accountability in education: Meeting Our Commitments. Paris.

Morley, L. (2012). The rules of the game : Women and the leaderist turn in higher education.

Gender and Education, (January 2013). https://doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2012.740888

Morley, L. (2013). Women and Higher Education Leadership : Absences and Aspirations Stimulus paper. London: Leadership Foundation for Higher Education All.

Morley, L. (2014). Lost leaders : women in the global academy Lost leaders : women in the global academy. Higher Education Research & Development, 33(1), 114–128. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2013.864611

Morley, L., & Crossouard, B. (2014). Women in Higher Education Leadership in South Asia : Rejection , Refusal , Reluctance , Revisioning. US, University of Sussex Center for Higher Education and Equity Research. The White House. (2009).

The White House Project : Benchmarking Women ’ s Leadership.

United Nations. (2018). Gender Equality: A Key SDG Accellerator, A Case Study from the Republic of Moldova.


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