Women in Leadership Programme2023-03-07T12:21:35+02:00

Women in Leadership Programme

The women in a higher education leadership programme for academic and administrative middle managers aim to promote gender equity in leadership and create a pipeline for senior management and executive positions in universities.

The fundamental premise for WiL is developing highly competent, effective leaders and managers who function in a complex, changing and paradoxical higher education context. WiL’s aim is to equip women to lead in such a dynamic environment that recognises and values the unique contribution of each leader. Leadership and management are transformative processes, directed not only at the context and institution, but also at the team that is being led and the individual leader herself. This reflects a deep recognition of a pluralist environment where each voice is relevant and adds value to a collective, empowering leadership space.

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.

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.

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.

Evaluating WiL 2020

The first cohort of 27 senior members of staff from 17 universities participated in the WiL programme. Based on a partnership between USAf, DHET and the British Council, WiL sought to create an empowering space and programme for our women leaders. The  curriculum design was tailored to address the unique context of our higher education system. It included  face-to-face together with remote sessions, peer learning groups, coaching sessions and the compilation of a portfolio of evidence to give shape to a unique learning experience (an accredited short course from the Mandela university).

The review of the programme was conducted by M&ESURE and was overwhelmingly positive in its findings. From the design to the implementation and its suitability to participants it was  perceived as “an integrated holistic programme” that gave the participants a new-found sense of agency in a historically unequal system.

Download the infographic for a quick overview of the impact of the programme.

The Impact of
our Programmes

“In a career of over 20 years this was the first time I was guided to actively reflect on how I got here, where do I want to be and why as compared to just working furiously at succeeding while losing sight of perhaps what success meant to me”
– Head of Department, WiL Programme 2021

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Related News

News and views

17 February 2022|Media Release, WiL 2021, Women in Leadership Programme|

This section provides a catchment area for news, brochures, academic articles and other material related to the WiL programme. News Article from University World News The WiL to power – Addressing gender inequality in HE leadership Academic articles and presentations Enabling and empowering women in leadership in South African universities - Assessing ...

USAf HELM Summit 2020

12 February 2021|HELM, Media Release, Upcoming Events|

Not bouncing back but bouncing forward: South African higher education in 2021 and beyond At the end of a year that has demoralised and literally devastated higher education globally, it was a buoyant Minister Blade Nzimande that opened the Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) virtual summit. And with good reason. ...

The WiL team

14 February 2020|Deans & Heads of School Programme, HELM, Media Release, WiL 2021, Women in Leadership Programme|

Prof Denise Zinn is the HELM Programme Leader for the Women in Leadership Programme. Previously she held the positions of Deputy Vice-Chancellor Learning & Teaching and Executive Dean of Education at Nelson Mandela University, and Executive Dean of Education at Fort Hare University. After completing a Master’s and Doctorate in Education at ...


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