Women in HE: Proving we make the difference

By Professor Julie Hall, Deputy Provost for Academic Development at the University of Roehampton

Gender imbalance in higher education leadership is an issue across the globe. More women than ever are entering universities as students and they regularly achieve at the highest levels, but while the recent appointments of women as vice-chancellors at four universities is to be celebrated, work remains to be done.

Roehampton has its roots in women’s education and preparation for leadership roles in the workforce and academia, which can be traced back to the foundations of our four colleges. During the next academic year, our oldest college, Whitelands, will celebrate 175 years as a higher education institution and it is among the oldest surviving women’s teacher training colleges in the UK.

This gives us a mandate to encourage women to reach the highest levels and we have a significant cadre in senior positions. Through the following pen portraits I want to illustrate that with the right framework, and commitment to their own careers, women can reach the top echelons of universities. These women are leaders and role models for all Roehampton students, but in a university where 71% are female their roles are especially important.

Professor Lynn Dobbs, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost:
Lynn joined Roehampton in May 2012 after carrying out significant research into social exclusion and securing more than £13m in grants at Northumbria University, where she held several cross-university responsibilities and oversaw its RAE 2008 submission. She is currently chair of a London Higher project examining equality and diversity in 22 London institutions, and laying out potential steps to enhance the diversity of future HE leaders. This project has quantified gender and ethnicity of HE staff and identified ‘pinch points’ in development pipelines of under-represented staff. A research project is due to be published in September. 

Professor Sharon Mavin, Director of Roehampton Business School:
Sharon is our newest senior academic appointment, and one of seven female heads of our 10 academic departments. She is a driving force in encouraging business schools to challenge gender inequalities. This is addressed in a number of ways:

•   Through research addressing barriers, effects and outcomes of gender inequality
•   By educating students to challenge stereotypical gendered assumptions
•   By providing role models and examples of best practice
•   By engaging in initiatives and debates to transform the business world and society in general.

Professor Mavin leads the Association of Business Schools Diversity Impact Group, and was awarded a Fellowship of the British Academy of Management in 2014. She is among a small number of women leading business schools and, while many boardrooms remain male dominated, her role and research will stand Roehampton out as a significant player in the drive for equality in in the Square Mile. She is also a Board Apprentice for a company board, which is aimed at increasing diversity and champions gender aware business education in the curricula. 

TOP ROW: Ann MacLarnon, Deputy Provost; Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, Head of Dept of Drama Theatre and Performance; Siobhan Kelly, President of Roehampton Students’ Union; Michele Lamb, Head of Social Sciences.
BOTTOM ROW: Sharon Mavin, Director of Roehampton Business School; Jacqueline Wilson, Chancellor of the University; Ghaz Alwani-Starr, Estates and Campus Services Director, Susan Deacy, National Teaching Fellow.

Professor Ann MacLarnon and Professor Claire Ozanne, Deputy Provosts:
My colleagues specialise in primatology and palaeoanthropology, and in the ecology of insects respectively; their careers prove how commitment beyond academia can benefit the University as a whole and assist in securing promotion.

Ann played a key role Roehampton’s Research Excellence Framework submission, which found 66% of our submitted research was ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, making us the most research intensive modern university in the country. REF provides a beacon for future students, particularly postgraduates and also for future staff, who see we take research work seriously. In the constant campaign to recruit the brightest and best, Ann’s leadership here has paid dividends.

Claire plays a leading role creating and maintaining partnerships with international educators, which has spread the Roehampton brand worldwide. She has helped engender a global network of Roehampton ambassadors in a way few other universities our size could manage. These partnerships also generate important income for the University which is re-invested in our future. At a time of financial uncertainty in the sector, these diverse streams of income bring welcome stability, and their success is due to Claire’s high level contribution.

Dr Ghazwa Alwani-Starr, Director of Estates and Campus Services:
How many women do you see donning a hard hat and steel-tipped boots as part of their office ‘uniform’? Ghazwa is ultimately responsible for the renaissance of our campus, which currently has three major construction projects in progress – two new halls of residence and our first purpose-built library. She has overall responsibility for running the estate and campus services and ensuring the health, safety and security of everyone on site. Ghazwa also leads on driving commercial income out of the estate during holiday periods; income which goes towards improving the students’ experience.

If there is one sector which is more male dominated than the City, it is probably construction. Nevertheless Ghazwa has developed working relationships which achieve results, dealing with hugely complex projects, while continuing to take personal responsibility for London’s most outstanding campus.

As the University’s representative at the Association of University Directors of Estates, she is also making her presence felt across the sector publishing key UUK reports on the use of space on campuses, among other initiatives.

For myself, I am also a Deputy Provost, having risen through the ranks from Director of Academic Enhancement, via the interim directorship of our Business School and my responsibilities lie in academic development across the institution. My own research has indicated academics and professional staff can feel the force of gendered assumptions in their work, which has shown through in responses from a Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) programme.

I believe organised career development and institutional transparency is central to women’s ability to progress. Women must take the lead in advancing their own careers, by keeping professional skills and practice up to date, showing how they add value, going above and beyond and taking responsibility where it is offered. But universities which encourage and provide a framework to reach the highest levels will I’m sure see the rewards through commitment, new perspectives and management skills which are just as honed as those of their male colleagues.

Prof Hall’s article is part of the UB Equality in HE series. Read another article on gender equality in HE here.

Look for the ‘Equality in HE’ logo in the next issue of UB for more features, news and views on this subject. If you’d like to take part in the series, or know someone who is championing gender equality in the higher education sector, get in touch. Email the editor at: rebecca.paddick@wildfirecomms.co.uk

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