Women in leadership took centre stage during day one of the inaugural Courageous Leadership Conference organised and hosted by the Durban University of Technology.
The Conference, which kicked off yesterday (Thursday, 25 August 2016) and ends today (Friday, 26 August 2016), is being held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Durban ICC.
Professor Thenjiwe Meyiwa, DUT Registrar; Professor Monique Marks, Research Professor and Urban Futures Centre Head at DUT and Ela Gandhi, Activist and former DUT Chancellor, all delivered keynote addresses about the status quo with regards to women in leadership in higher education and the country as well possible solutions to what is clearly a gloomy picture despite the country having good gender equity legislation. While much progress has been made in advancing and emancipating women in the country and its workplace, statistics delivered by Prof Meyiwa and Gandhi painted a clear picture that while women were indeed part of the workforce, they occupied too few strategic positions that hold the most power and influence.
Gandhi said women are still vastly underrepresented in terms of senior positions, making reference to the fact that only 23% deputy vice-chancellors in the country’s 26 universities are female. While transformation in terms of race and gender is an urgent matter where universities are concerned, Gandhi warned against changes in composition without a change in mindsets. “While a man who occupies the same position as a woman will sail through without any anxiety, a woman will have to work extra hard and face enormous challenges in order to prove herself. Women constantly have to be on their guard and prove their worth. How many women suffer burnout while trying to conquer the odds? The outcome (of this problem) is that women refuse to aspire to or apply for higher positions. If our mindsets changed, we would create situations where women would thrive in those (senior) positions”, said Gandhi. She called for a change in the country’s curriculum that does not entrench patriarchy. “It (the curriculum) must represent the ideology that we want to see, which is the transformation about gender equality and the economy and in terms of all differences in race, religion, etc. That is what we agreed on when we drew up the Freedom Charter. Let’s begin to look at a blend of solutions that reflect the current thinking,” she urged.
Opening her address, Prof Meyiwa said the ability to lead is based on one’s capabilities and not their gender. Also giving some statistics with regards to gender in higher education, Prof Meyiwa said one in four women are in senior positions in universities. Making reference to DUT, she said the University has 51 professors and of those, only 20 are women. Of that 20, continued Prof Meyiwa, only seven are full professors. “Something has to change, it can’t be business as usual. What we’ve heard is that we can’t close the gender gap because there’s an insufficient critical mass pool of women. However, we should not wait until there are enough women to change the demography and structures. There’s a wealth of female leaders, and higher education needs to commit on a way forward rather than simply talking about solutions. We need to redefine the current power constructs that were socially constructed and universities must lead the way on this. We also must provide support and resources to enable women to succeed, increase women in top positions, have targets to commit to and work towards and look at experiences (of women) and reflect on those experiences. Unless demographics changes, behaviors will not change,” said Prof Meyiwa.
Prof Marks said while there are patriarchal aspects in universities, her personal experience is that glass ceilings in universities are breakable. She called for women to do away with the notion and images that they are soft beings when they are in fact bold, tenacious, essential and feisty. “As a woman, be prepared to take risks and be in spaces where you feel uncomfortable. Accept that failure and success go together because we cannot succeed all the time. Women often feel that in order to prove themselves, they have to succeed all the time which couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.
– Sinegugu Ndlovu
Pictured: Professor Monique Marks, Research Professor and Urban Futures Centre Head at DUT, during her keynote address at the inaugural DUT Courageous Leadership Conference at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Durban ICC.