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Women’s educational leadership in the spotlight in Dubai

Self-awareness and sense of purpose the building blocks of leadership says UOW Dean

What can women do to prepare themselves for leadership opportunities in education?

This was one of the topics discussed at the 2017 Women in Educational Leadership Summit: Being Bold for Change, held at University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Dubai campus on Saturday, 21 October.

Calling on her extensive experience in business, education and coaching, Associate Professor Grace McCarthy, Dean of Sydney Business School, University of Wollongong, presented the Summit’s keynote address, highlighting four specific ways women can prepare themselves for positions of academic leadership.

Start with yourself. If you’re used to flying, you always get the advice about putting your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. That is a very good mantra for all of us, particularly for women. We are inclined to be the carers, but we need to look after ourselves.

Understand your own purpose and motivation. For example, I have a real passion for learning. When I was working in industry as the director of customer service, while I didn’t have a role to play in learning development, I organised lunch time workshops where key customers would come in and meet the people working on the machines and manufacturing line. It gave these workers a better understanding of where the products were going and what was important, so the customer became a human and not just someone to make money out of.

Create and make opportunities. If there isn’t an opportunity to do something formally, then find an informal opportunity that links with your own passion. Doing something you are passionate about, can often lead to being appointed into a more formal role where you can fulfil this passion.

Helping others is another form of motivation and a way we can give back. We have to find something that’s true to us, something that makes a contribution to the society around us. You have to understand the system you’re operating in, so in the higher education sector you have to understand the academic promotions framework, what is the university looking for, because as you go through those ranks, people will come to you for advice and mentoring and you need to understand how to best help them.”

Commenting on the gender imbalance in higher education leadership roles, Associate Professor McCarthy said while things are starting to change, there was still a long way to go.

“Across the world there is a huge disparity of the proportions of women at the lower levels of the hierarchy.

“Australian Government statistics show at Associate Lecturer and Lecturer level there are more females than males, but as soon as you switch to Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and Professor level, it flips to more males.

“And when it comes to Chancellors and Vice Chancellors, there really aren’t a lot of women in these roles in Australia – that picture is replicated around the world.

“Just as it is in business, the ABC put out a report in March that you’re more likely to be a CEO or a chair of an ASX 200 company if your name is John or Peter or David, than if you are a woman,” she said.

According to McCarthy, the tertiary education system is not easy to navigate for women.

“When I looked at the research on women in higher education, women are more likely to be in fixed term or casual employment, and they are more likely to be in teaching intensive positions, that’s all fine, except it’s much harder to get a promotion in most universities based on your teaching compared to your research,” she said.

She said the current trend where promotion is skewed towards research success, highlighted a need in many universities for promotion methods to be reviewed.

“Here at UOW we’ve tried to make the three categories [for promotion] equal. We’ve got teaching, research and governance and service, however, as you go up the different levels of promotion, we’re looking for people who can demonstrate national or international calibre in whichever category you’re rating most highly – which is easier to demonstrate via research.

“External academics will be familiar with your research from reading your publications or hearing you at a conference. However they won’t have been taught by you in a classroom or won’t usually have experienced your prowess in leadership or governance, so it is more difficult for them to provide a strong reference for your teaching or governance than for your research, Associate Professor McCarthy.

When it comes to job applications, studies have shown unconscious gender bias still very much exists. “An experiment was run where they took a CV and all that changed was the name. In this case, they changed Karen to Brian and vice versa. The CV was given to over 100 psychologists to evaluate for particular academic roles and more of them picked the male. A lot more.

“They also evaluated Brian as being a better fit for the job than Karen.

“If we’re not aware of the bias, we can’t challenge it or do anything about it,” Associate Professor McCarthy said.

As part of the summit, Associate Professor McCarthy participated together with Ms Marisa Mastroianni CEO UOW Enterprises and Dr Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in a United Nations and Dubai Women’s Business Council branded panel discussion about women on boards.

The panel examined the notion of organisational diversity as a social obligation or business imperative, the question of enablers and challenges for women on boards, and the importance of creating and maintaining an active pipeline of female leadership.

Associate Professor McCarthy said she was delighted to learn of the many progressive actions being taken in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the impact that is having.

“For example, in the UAE, the ratio of female to male graduates in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) subjects is 50:50, whereas in many regions of the world including Australia, there are fewer females than males in these disciplines,” she said.

The UAE has implemented a requirement for boards to have at least one female director, and the just announced UAE Cabinet includes a third female members.

“It was great being part of the Women in Educational Leadership Summit at such an interesting time in Dubai where the government is being proactive in taking measures to improve the ability of women to achieve their potential in all walks of life,” Associate professor McCarthy said.

About Associate Professor Grace McCarthy

Associate Professor McCarthy is Dean of the Sydney Business School, University of Wollongong and was previously Associate Dean (Education) for the Faculty of Business, University of Wollongong. Associate Professor McCarthy draws on many years’ experience in industry to enrich her teaching and learning practices, and in 2012 was awarded an Australian Government Office of Learning and Teaching citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning for ‘using a coaching approach to inspire a love of learning among students and colleagues’. In 2016, Professor McCarthy was named one of the University of Wollongong’s Women of Impact. Professor McCarthy’s research focuses on contemporary leadership practices, in particular coaching and mentoring. Her book, Coaching and Mentoring for Business, was published by Sage in 2014.

Posted in Education
Tagged: Business, Career


  • Associate Professor Grace McCarthy