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Work culture key to int’l ed female leadership

Challenges for women seeking leadership positions in international education begin with the recruitment process, but the work culture within organisations also needs to be “continually developed and nurtured”, sector stakeholders have heard.

Only 21% of the top 200 universities globally are led by women, delegates heard. Photo: Roger Harris

Referencing a 2020 UK study, Allen noted that over one third of female-led businesses faced gender bias when raising capital investments

“Research shows that people tend to recruit people who are like them; who look like them; who mirror who they are,” Charlene Allen, co-founder and director of The IC Global Partnership said, leading a panel discussion during The PIE Live entitled, Women at the Top Table.

She asked the panel how organisations can better ensure a gender balance in leadership roles, especially if their senior leadership teams are largely composed of males.

Victoria McLean, CEO and founder of City CV, offered suggestions on how to better attract, engage, and retain female talent. Much of those considerations are aligned with “marketing, employer brand, and transparency about career progression”, she said.

She also suggested that company culture plays a significant role in the recruitment process; moreover, that it needs to be continually developed and nurtured. In referencing International Women’s Day, she asserted, “That’s just one day of the year! How do you engage women throughout the year?”

“International Women’s Day is just one day of the year! How do you engage women throughout the year?”

As the sole male on the panel, Mark Garratt, global director of University of Law, discussed the concept of allyship.

He recalled a conversation he had with a former professor who suggested leaders should be proactive and “have two or three CVs in their pocket, of people they want to promote and amplify their voice”.

“That’s how you can position yourself to be an ally,” he said.

Allen referenced certain industries, such as tech, often have “difficulty in getting female applicants to some of the roles, because some parts of the organisation just attract more men”.

Rachel Fletcher, CEO and co-founder of UniQuest, said that the specific language used in recruiting and interviewing is important, stating, “so much of it has to be around inclusivity and culture and there has to be more than words on the board”.

“And that’s everything from the job specs and the language you use, to how you’re identifying and encouraging promotion, as well as maternity, remote, and return to work policies.”

Allen offered some compelling statistics that highlighted the lack of women at the top table. “Looking at the top 200 universities globally, only 21% are led by women,” she detailed.

Referencing a 2020 UK study, Allen noted that over one third of female-led businesses faced gender bias when raising capital investments. She asked the panel what some of the barriers are that may be contributing to these numbers.

Panellists agreed that imposter syndrome often dissuades women from pursuing leadership positions.

Liz Meuse, head of Business Development at Unibuddy, shared her belief that preparation is key in assuaging imposter syndrome. “One of the ways that I’ve tried to overcome imposter syndrome is always being the most prepared going into any meeting so there’s nothing that’s going to catch me off guard,” she noted.

Another suggested mitigating factor to imposter syndrome was mentorship. Panellists stated that having either male or female mentors was a crucial element to fostering leadership skills in women and helping to create a robust pipeline of women leaders. The discussion ended with a top tip by Meuse to have different mentors for different skills and tasks.

“I have my ‘difficult conversations’ mentors. I have my ‘delicate around situations’ mentors”. She further suggested that women looking to level up in the sector, “leverage [mentors] at different times for different reasons to make you the leader you want to be”.

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