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Tailor higher education leadership route to suit women, study finds

18 Jun 2019 | Advance HE Current and aspiring women leaders in higher education (HE) would benefit from a more tailored approach to leadership training, according to new research by Advance HE.

Current and aspiring women leaders in higher education (HE) would benefit from a more tailored approach to leadership training, according to new research by Advance HE.

Support for Current and Aspiring Women Leaders: an Exploration of UK Higher Education Institutions’ Responses, funded by the Advance HE Small Development Project scheme, looks at how higher education institutions (HEIs) are working with Aurora, a women-only leadership programme, and other mechanisms available to support women’s leadership aspirations.

Although there has been an increase in the number of women holding senior and executive level positions in the sector, there is a continued lack of proportional representation of women at these levels. The aim of the research was to generate findings that could inform policy and highlight best practice to address the support mechanisms needed to develop current and aspiring women leaders within HEIs.

The research found that women in HE are not homogenous in their experiences, advancement goals and support needs and that none require the same processes to help them achieve their career aspirations. The report recommends that where HEIs provide support mechanisms they should consider a more tailored approach to leadership training for women.

A snapshot of the findings reveals:

  • Over half had applied for a leadership programme.
  • Nearly two thirds had applied for, or sought, promotion once or more.
  • Three quarters, both those who had completed a women-only leadership programme and those who had not, perceived benefits to a women-only leadership programme.
  • 86% of institutions responded that they offer women-only leadership programmes.
  • Over half of those who did not currently offer such programmes are considering doing so.

There was a high level of agreement from the female respondents that there was support available within their institution to aid their leadership aspirations. However, this perception of support was found to vary, and could be dependent on other aspects such as ethnicity or nationality, having a disability or the type of work role. These aspects, along with care responsibilities and marital status, were also perceived to have had an impact on the women’s career aspirations.

The report makes clear that support mechanisms could be both facilitators of achieving leadership aspirations, but also barriers where the support is absent or implemented incorrectly.

Read Support for Current and Aspiring Women Leaders: an Exploration of UK Higher Education Institutions’ Responses 

Find out more about Advance HE Small Development Projects

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