“Almost five years later I am still one of only 17 % of female Vice Chancellors in higher education…”
Leeds Beckett University is a large and diverse university with over 3,000 staff and 32,000 students and I am proud to have been appointed as the University’s first female Vice Chancellor back in 2010. However, almost five years later I am still one of only 17 % of female Vice Chancellors in higher education and the debate about increasing the number of female leaders in education and business is more topical than ever.
The headlines from the Equality Challenge Unit’s latest annual report make for stark reading and I am keenly aware that, despite making up 54% of the Higher Education workforce, women are under-represented at professorial and senior management levels as they are at executive and board levels in UK businesses. As a Vice Chancellor I often reflect on what this means for our female graduates embarking on their careers and also what more we, as a University, can do to enable both our female staff and students to realise their potential.
“We need to provide our students with positive and relevant leadership role models.”
Talent management is at the top of our University’s agenda when thinking about the need to ensure we can continue to thrive and innovate in a challenging and competitive Higher Education market and that talent needs to become more diverse and representative of the population we serve. As a University with strong ties to the business community in our region and beyond, I regularly talk with colleagues about our responsibility to develop high calibre, professional graduates. In order to do that, we need to provide our students with positive and relevant leadership role models. Achieving the Investors in People Gold Standard last year was an important milestone in demonstrating to current and future staff that we take their careers seriously.
We have worked hard on this diversity agenda at Leeds Beckett over recent years in collaboration with our staff and student forums to identify initiatives which can unlock the hidden talent which I believe resides in many large organisations but which does not see itself reflected in the profile of the senior team. For example, we have encouraged the participation of female academic and professional services staff in the Leadership Foundation’s new Aurora programme, designed to facilitate the career progression of women across the HE sector on a large scale. Our people have told us that the main benefits of the scheme have been the opportunity to develop a cross institutional (and cross sector) network of colleagues and the access to mentoring from a senior female colleague within our University.
“Relationships are one of the key factors in creating an inclusive environment which builds confidence and encourages colleagues to progress.”
This suggests to me that relationships are one of the key factors in creating an inclusive environment which builds confidence and encourages colleagues to progress. I have often found that it is through informal, and sometimes unexpected, interactions that connections are made which spark longer term collaborations and enable colleagues to share experiences and successes. For this reason, we have recently launched an Academic Research Mentoring Scheme which is intended to encourage female and BME academic staff to develop their research and the networks they will need to progress their academic careers.
As today’s leaders we all have a responsibility to identify and encourage those with potential regardless of their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. We have been delivering unconscious bias training to our managers over the past few years to equip them to challenge some of the norms and assumptions that can shape their thinking about what potential talent looks like.
“We all need to challenge ourselves and each other about the ways we frame the leadership proposition for future generations of female leaders.”
Of course, there are lots of other factors impacting on female representation at senior levels in business and academia and they have been well rehearsed. As is the case across the sector, we still have a way to go. For example, only 20% of our professoriate is female despite the recent appointment and promotion of some impressive female professors. However there are signs of positive progress here with over 40% female membership of our senior team and Board of Governors.
From my perspective, my contribution to creating a high performing academic and professional environment in which female leaders can grow and thrive will be continuing to promote the diversity agenda through active engagement with our diverse staff and student base and sharing their success stories with as wide an audience as possible. I believe that we all need to challenge ourselves and each other about the ways we frame the leadership proposition for future generations of female leaders.
Susan Price is Vice Chancellor of Leeds Beckett University.