Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Published on 17 August 2015

The Women in Higher Education Management: Breaking the Glass Ceiling workshop, organised by the ACU in partnership with Edu Leads Consultancy and the University of Malaya, took place between 12 and 13 August at the university's School of Graduate Studies in Kuala Lumpur. The workshop was opened by a welcoming speech from Professor Doctor Mad Sidin Ahmad Ishak, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, followed by a welcoming introduction from ACU representatives.

The keynote address was delivered by Professor Christine Ennew, Provost Nottingham University Malaysia Campus. She acknowledged the lack of women in higher education management is a generic issue, prevalent in countries across the world and should be viewed as part of a broader agenda to promote equality. Professor Ennew reiterated this matters for both moral and practical reasons, as systematically excluding groups of individuals for irrelevant reasons results in lost talent.

While explicit discrimination is increasingly legislated against in most countries, implicit discrimination still persists, resulting in labour market segmentation where women predominantly occupy lower paid and skilled roles or are paid less than their male colleagues for doing the same work. Sometimes there is also a lack of opportunities for women; assumptions about preferences and abilities, including stereotypes as a result of cultural norms persist. The solutions recommended by Professor Ennew include supporting individuals and changing organisations by actively promoting equality, addressing organisational practice, and challenging expectations and stereotypes.

Doctor Jasbir Singh one of the directors of Edu Leads Consulting - and long-term consultant to the ACU's Gender Programme - gave an overview of her work, including various reports she has authored. These reports provide data on the numbers of female academic and administrative staff at different levels in Commonwealth universities. Doctor Singh stressed how little has changed during all these years, with the number of women in top positions remaining very low. In Malaysia specifically, only 26% of university professors are women, despite the fact that 43% of those holding PhDs are women.

The rest of the workshop focussed on putting the context into practice for delegates, through a series of interactive sessions. Activities included presenting on leadership structures and decision-making processes within their institutions, and discussing what skills could help delegates to progress into positions of leadership. Many who occupy senior positions already shared their rich leadership experiences and looked into ways to enhance their abilities further and become more efficient leaders.

Delegates also had time to discuss many other topics pertinent to higher education management, including informal and formal power, communication skills and people management.

In-keeping with the workshop's theme, the day concluded with a session where participants could put their newly gained knowledge to good use, by designing leadership promotion plans to help women break through the glass ceiling in their respective institutions.