Crisis what crisis
South African higher education is in transition and grappling with major challenges arising from global and local development imperatives. With a global disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also facing a leadership crisis which requires an altogether different response. The fault lines in our leadership have been brutally exposed during the pandemic and we need a response that is attuned to complexity, transformation, pluralism on the one hand and performativity and efficiency on the other.
A critical role in addressing the current challenges is played by women leaders. Gender equity and women’s access to executive and management positions in universities is a major challenge on the African Continent, and especially at the executive level in South Africa. Over the course of 2019, HELM began researching the particular experiences of women in leadership, leading to the publication of “Enabling and empowering women in leadership in South African universities – Assessing needs and designing a response”. This paper was instrumental in the designing of the WiL programme.
At the HELM of leadership
In South Africa, the notion of university leadership has been expanded to include a wider audience, like Heads of Academic Departments, Heads of Academic Schools, Deans, and Deputies as well as Administrative Leadership, such as Registrars and Faculty Managers. It is for these reasons of advancing management (with an emphasis on performativity and efficiency) and leadership (with a focus on pluralism and transformation) that Universities South Africa (USAf) developed and implemented its Higher Educational Leadership and Management (HELM) programme in 2004. The aim of HELM is to advance leadership in the sector and it has developed a specific Women in Leadership (WiL) programme to enable, empower and advance women leadership.
Where there’s a WiL
WiL is mandated to address leadership issues focussing on women’s professional development and advancement in the system, while addressing issues of transformation. The goals of WiL is to equip women leaders to impact the leadership context in collaborative ways and to advance engaged, collective and shared strategic objectives within their respective institutions and across the higher education sector.
WiL is a six month programme and virtually launched on the first day of Spring, 1 September 2020, a time of renewal and rejuvenation, in South Africa. It comprises a number of leadership and management sessions based on a training needs analysis, coaching and mentoring and a study gathering with colleagues from the Universities of Bath. With 26 participants at various levels of seniority, it is hoped that WiL will grow into an enduring network of women empowered to renew the sector. WiL’s partners are the South African Department of Higher Education and Training, the British Council, Advance HE and the University of Bath.