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Women and leadership in academia

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Social and economic factors outside the university environment

Some things are the same all over the world: for example, women may experience a conflict between their domestic and professional roles. Universities too tend to display similarities in terms of workplace culture and structural practices that affect promotion. However, other factors are extrinsic and relate to particular historical or social circumstances of a particular country.

One of the most extensive pieces of research on women in leadership roles in higher education is that done by Özkanlı and White (2008), which is a comparative study of female professors in Turkey and Australia. Whereas Australia had been the beneficiary of considerable equal employment opportunity and affirmative action, as well as an "Action Plan for Women Employed in Australian Universities", Turkey has no specific equal opportunity laws although the Turkish Constitution guarantees equality. And yet, as described in the previous section, there are significantly more female professors in Turkey than Australia.

There are several reasons for this. A basis was laid in the 1920s by the secularist principles of Kemel Atatürk, who believed that men and women should contribute equally to Turkish economic, cultural, and social life (Özkanlı, 2006). Professional careers were seen as more fitting for a "respectful Turkish woman" than business. Higher education tends to be poorly paid, hence shunned by men in favour of more highly paid commercial careers, thus shortening the queue for jobs. Although there is little legislation for diversity, appointments are highly transparent and regulated, which has the same effect. Finally, there has been considerable growth in the number of universities, which has increased from 29 to 77 between 1990 and 2006, and the number of female professors increased by 75 per cent in that time.

In Australia, by contrast, the university sector has been largely stagnant, but has been forced to take on practices from the business world. This has resulted in a macho, managerialist culture which is also highly competitive, and not one where women have flourished. Moreover, morale is low and the atmosphere not one which encourages creativity and learning.

It is hardly surprising that the authors of this study conclude that equal opportunities legislation has little effect on women's employment. South Africa on the other hand is a society which is emerging from the notorious apartheid era to one which tries to be more equitable. Recent attempts at equal opportunities legislation, however, have to contend with an infrastructure that is based on the values of the old regime.

Mabokela (2001), Mabokela and Mawila (2004) and Moultrie and de la Rey (2003) have all undertaken research on women in academic positions in South Africa, and they report on how black women are still profoundly disadvantaged, and under-represented in senior positions. Black universities are teaching institutions and lack a research culture, having been set up to train administrators for the new black homelands, and therefore keep the system in place, rather than as seats of knowledge. Although the PhD is the international passport to an academic career, many South African academics have not had the opportunity to acquire it (some may have "lost" their earlier research years to political activism). Mabokela and Mawila (2004) cite research that 25 per cent of academics in black universities have a PhD as opposed to 50 per cent of those in their white counterparts.

Growth in the university sector, as in the Turkish example above, creates opportunities as does demographic change. In America, community colleges mushroomed in the 1960s and 1970s and attracted idealist leaders, many of whom are now facing retirement; 50 per cent of college presidents are currently over 60. According to Jacqueline King, director of the American Council on Education's (ACE) Center for Policy Analysis, this provides opportunity for more diverse appointments (Walker, 2007). The creation of more new universities in the UK provides opportunity to scrutinize appointments procedure – and both the Universities of Worcester and Winchester have appointed equal numbers of male and female professors (Oxford, 2008).