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GENDER AND HIGHER EDUCATION LEADERSHIP: Perceptions of Gender in Higher Education leadership

By Ayo Ayoola-Amale Esq. (Ghana)


 GENDER AND HIGHER EDUCATION LEADERSHIP: Perceptions of Gender in Higher Education leadership
  By Ayo Ayoola-Amale Esq. (Ghana)


Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Higher Education Leadership
Topic: Perceptions of Gender in Higher Education leadership
By Ayo Ayoola-Amale Esq.

Perceptions of gender and leadership always revealed male standards. For that reason, leadership concept has naturally been shaped by masculine values. Consequently, Leadership is predominantly a male-controlled domain assumed to be purposely made for men because of their perceived personality traits based on long-established stereotypes regarding genders.

Eagly and Carli (2007) asserted that there is a gender bias that exists such that men are associated with being leaders because they more commonly demonstrate assertive masculine traits that connote leadership, such as dominance, whereas women are less apt to be perceived as leaders. Women still face difficulties when it comes to access to leading positions. Because of tacit stereotypic perceptions, the world is said to be a ‘man’s world’ referring to male dominance, masculine values and a perceived standard. Early research on leadership overlooked the role of demographic differences such as gender. This neglect is beginning to be addressed with better attention to the influence of gender in leadership (Chin, Lott, Rice, & Sanchez-Hucles, 2007; Eagly, 2007; Rhode & Kellerman,2007). This chapter will examine the role gender play in the narratives of women and men leaders, their attitudinal differences and personalities, what strategies might institutions of higher education use to degender and the implications that these outlooks have on institutions and the workforce.

Leadership is an evolving concept that has been described in many ways, with differences in the definitions often revealing the professional and personal orientations of the definers. Most definitions have in common a focus on a process of interpersonal influence that uses power and authority to encourage others to act to achieve goals (Yukl, 2009).

According to R. M Stogdills: “Leadership is a process involving three elements: influencing others to behave in a certain way; working with people in a group context; and influencing group members in the direction of a goal accomplishment.” Jagd, Suren (2009)

The concept of leadership, the perception of what a leader is and leadership ways and means
was based on a traditional male attributes and vision because the key leaders of the past have always been men. Consequently, the concept of leadership has continuously been related tomasculine values and male domination. However this traditional perception of thepaternalistic image of the leader has changed to some extent. Academics such as Kathy Ferguson and Joan Acker have been top critics of the patriarchal logic of organisation and bureaucracy. Ferguson notes the power of purportedly neutral 'bureaucratic discourse' to 'manipulate, twist, and damage human possibility' in pursuit of capitalist goals (In The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy (1984),). Likewise, Aker (1991) argues that gender assumptions that devalue women are deeply embedded in organisational processes, language and metaphors. Women pass through a lot of challenges as they confront issues related to sexism, perceptions, and discrimination on the basis of personality and ,identity particularly in view of the fact that most organizations and leadership were set up to maintain a gender order where masculinities were privileged.. Eagly and Carli lay emphasis on the fact that to effectively negotiate the labyrinth, women are required to prove both ‘manly’ and communal skills as well as create social capital. Eagly and Carli (2007) They must combine assertive agency with the communal qualities of compassion, amiability, and usefulness.

Whereas, the ability of creating social capital is derived from working together with colleagues and forming progressive relationships. Women are expected to take part in networking with both gender. Women's leadership usually includes working inside, around and under institutional, cultural and societal settings that may well be dictatorial, repressive and ranked, gendered, discriminatory and stereotypical. The latter can have emotional impact on women in leadership roles because of their effect on perceptions and their elicitation of stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson,1995). Stereotype threat happens when one cares about a domain (e.g., one wishes to be an effective leader), one knows that a stereotype about the group of which one is a member can provide an explanation for poor performance in this domain (e.g., women are expected by others to be less effective as leaders), and this stereotype is made salient in a situation requiring performance (Steele & Aronson, 1995). Stereotype threat is more likely with difficult tasks, when ability is evaluated, when a stereotype relates to performance, and when individuals are highly identified with the task. Stereotype threat effects have been demonstrated for gender (Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). Stereotypes do not have to be openly induced; simply being in the numerical minority may create an intensified sense of group identity, and stereotype threat may operate if negative stereotypes are related with that group identity. For instance, performance in mathematics was shown to decline for women in groups in which they represented a token minority; performance declined as the proportion of men in the group increased (Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev, 2003). Performance of women can be reduced even with subliminal priming of stereotypes (Ambady, Paik, Steele, Owen- Smith, & Mitchell, 2004). Stereotype threat may exert a significant influence on the number of women and minorities in leadership, although little research has examined the influence of stereotype threat in higher education and disagreement exists about the interpretation of these research findings (Sackett, Schmitt, Ellingson, & Kabin, 2001; Steele & Davies, 2003). Thus, for many women and as Blackmore and Sachs document, leadership may well involve a process of both 'performing and reforming'; of simultaneously working within existing institutional arrangements and structures while also arguing for new ways of organising and modelling new forms of leading. The issues around leadership, institutional cultures and the gender-based power constructs that challenge higher education today are issues that need urgent attention as leaders of the future are educated in the universities of today. Higher education institution, as we all know are places of learning and knowledge creation, and is expected to play crucial roles in providing critical intellectual leadership to guide the transformation both of the institution itself and the larger society. Within the numerous different leadership approaches, two incompatible trends are emerging: the male and female leadership styles. These theories emphasize a gender typed leadership style. The male leadership style is based on masculine values such as confidence, command and control. The female leadership style is based on reasoning that feminine values such as nurturing, attentive, caring, which reveals female stereotypes and feminine values are used as identity. These visions of leadership founded on gender differences are meant to show that the leadership style can be directly connected to the masculinity or femininity of leaders.

These different descriptions have been used to characterize women and to slow the advancement of women leaders. Some call this barrier a glass ceiling (Hymowitz & Schellhardt, 1986).

Whatever its origins, the term “glass ceiling” became an established part of the career development lexicon when the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 ((Public Law 102-166), with a mandate to identify barriers that have prevented the advancement of women and minorities in the labor force.

The first use of the term “glass ceiling” in reference to the status of women in higher education medicine was by Nickerson et al. in a study demonstrating comparable promotion rates for women and men at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. Leah Dickstein refer to many examples of both overt and subtle sexism in her own career progression and condemns the metaphorical ceiling preventing women from entering leadership in academic medicine as being made of Lexan, a material stronger and more difficult to shatter than glass.

In 2007, it was found that three of the 23 vice-chancellors (13%) and five of the 23 registrars (21%) in South Africa were women. Women also comprised 21% of the deputy vice-chancellors, while another 21% were executive directors. Although women constitute over 50% of the higher education workforce in South Africa they are still under-represented in senior positions (HERS-SA, 2007). It is very glaring that the proportion of women in positions of authority and responsibility in higher education is “outrageously low”. Tesch and Nattinger surveyed male and female physicians who began their first faculty appointment at the same time. They proposed “sticky floor” as a supplemental metaphor for women in academic medicine because in addition to finding that fewer women than men had been promoted, they also discovered that women had been given less institutional resources at the start of their career—hence, the sticky floor. As a woman who found herself in a midlevel leadership position in academic medicine, Carnes built on the glass ceiling metaphor in a 1995 editorial observing that as she stood just beneath the glass ceiling and looked through it, she could see no pleasing role models in her institution because of the gendered dissimilarities in behavioral norms and social roles both inside and outside academic medicine.

The other focus is on leaders for the reason that they are more likely to demonstrate communal qualities such as kindness. The male style of leadership has been believed to comprise of “command and control,” while the female style is seen as “facilitative and collaborative.” Both forms of leadership are essential. A lot of people are of the view that a variety of leadership styles is needed, yet women are always expected to lead within a narrow band described as the small range between not too wimpy and not too bitchy (Bronznick & Goldenhar, 2008)—a Procrustean compromise that does not promote their leadership potential. Fletcher (2004) has noted the paradox that women are celebrated for representing a new model of leadership but the fact remains that they gain very little from the celebration. The answer to the problem posed by the restricted role for women in leadership is for women to exercise a variety of leadership styles. The additional answer is to increase the number of women leaders so that the connection of leadership style with gender is neutralized (Bronznick & Goldenhar, 2008).

We must note that the traditional ‘place’ of woman in higher education was in the title role of educator or secretary. However with more access to higher education over the past few years, there has been a “rise of the high-ranking woman”. The rise nevertheless has not produced a solid impact because there remains a substantial and noticeable gender inequality gap at higher education institutions. This is mainly because of the long held culture of male-dominated management due to the continued traditional norms.

The experience of high-ranking women in higher education is often a process of formation and negotiation of identities. The important problems include unequal power relations and discrimination which affect women’s prospects for promotion. These factors contribute to women’s unwillingness to apply for high-ranking positions. Thus overcoming this reluctance, social and institutional expectations are big challenges for women in shifting the demographics of male-dominated executive roles in higher education. Furthermore, the subtler forms of discrimination which permeate institutional cultures are challenges that universities need to address, these institutional cultures which are overflowing with gender-based power constructs promotes keeping women out of higher education leadership. These subtle forms of discrimination in institutional cultures create barriers to women's success and for that reason there is an urgent need for the redefinition of power away from the control model to an enabling model. Good leadership understood in this context turn out to be empowering for everyone to actualize their full potential for the greater good of the institution and the larger society.

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