Opening with a live and rousing version of “Celebration” performed by the Two Tone band, The Women in Leadership (WiL) Programme certification ceremony took place on 17 February 2023 hosted at Nelson Mandela University in Gqerberha. Dr Muki Moeng, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching at Nelson Mandela University, presided over the ceremony together with Acting Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education, Dr Tulsi Morar.

This is the third cohort of the Higher Education Leadership and Management’s (HELM) flagship programme. WiL 3 2022 kicked off on 25 May with an inaugural meeting, online and culminated with the graduation ceremony.

Thirty-four women leaders from 20 universities participated in and completed the WiL programme in 2022. This brings the total number of women leaders across the sector who have participated to 90. WiL for academic and administrative middle managers aims to promote gender equity in leadership roles and create a pipeline for senior management and executive positions in universities.

The target group for the WiL programme are women in the positions of: Deans and deputy deans; Heads of academic schools/departments; and Directors of academic institutes/centres/ portfolios e.g., Learning & Teaching, Research, Engagement and Transformation.

Dr Muki Moeng began by commending the relationship that been built between HELM and the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University. For her it is a crucial partnership that creates a space for women leaders to emerge stronger and more equipped than before.

“Traditionally, leadership implies a relationship of power – the power to guide, advise, mentor, coach, sponsor and lead others. Some of you are already doing this at differing levels. Women who take up senior leadership positions not only have to cope with and compete in a patriarchal system but also have the responsibility to change patriarchal hegemony and shift the management discourse and culture.” Dr Moeng continued by noting that “this shift should be towards a collaborative leadership culture that will support transformation. So, you have a huge task ahead of you. You have a responsibility to change how things are done”.

Shaping a different kind of programme

The Women in Leadership programme comprises the following interrelated components, utilising a range of online pedagogical modalities:
1. A series of 10 3-hour sessions offered mostly online on a regular basis and over a period of 4-6 months. The final sessions took place in a 3-day hybrid session that included shared sessions between the WiL 1 and 2 and WiL 3 cohorts. These enabled the cohorts to get together to expand and consolidate the expanding alumnae network.
2. Peer learning groups which met for a minimum of 1 hour, 6 times during
the programme.
3. Individual coaching with an experienced qualified coach – 6 hour-long
sessions over the duration of the programme.
4. Reflective and practical assignments, culminating in a final Portfolio of
Learning (PoL) that had to be submitted to complete the programme
and earn a short learning programme certificate, registered at and
issued by Nelson Mandela University.

Building the network

The engagement between the WiL cohorts resulted in a range of further activities being proposed to bring together the ‘WiL’ women leaders over the course of the coming and future years. In terms of numbers, the first (2020) cohort had 26 ‘graduates’ from 17 universities, while the second (2021) cohort has seen a further 29 women leaders complete the programme.

For Prof Denise Zinn, the programme leader, it is crucial that these cohorts remain in contact with each other. “We need to create a critical mass of women leaders in our universities and this means continually growing the talent pool of women leaders into the future.” During the ceremony, Dr Birgit Schreiber, the co-facilitator on the programme, thanked this cohort “for their commitment, their enthusiasm and their wisdom — it is because of women like these that our sector will see a more gender fair and diverse higher education leadership culture.”

Dr Oliver Seale, Director at HELM was effusive in his praise of the programme. “There is an energy in this room and among the participants of the programme that is brimming with pride in what has been achieved and a determination to achieve even greater things in the future. It is a honour and privilege to be able to witness it.”

A short, 5-minute highlight package of the ceremony, compiled by NMU, is available here. In March, HELM will be sending out the next call to all 26 institutions — via their DVC: Teaching and Learning — for nominations to the next WiL programme in 2023.