There are numerous benefits and advantages to having women in leadership in organisational structures including universities. There is a growing evidence base that suggests that having women in learning and teaching leadership positions in universities will provide a more culturally diverse workplace and enable a better understanding of critical issues through a broadened perspective (Workplace Gender Equality Agency). However female academics continue to be underrepresented in senior academic positions in Australia and internationally (Sharafizad, Brown, Omari & Jogulu, 2021).

Devlin (2021) reports that university leaders in Australia are nearly three times more likely to be a man than a woman, and men hold 54 of the 74 top jobs in Australian higher education.

The challenge for universities is to identify models and strategies required to build capacity and capability in women to progress into leadership roles. Despite decades of effort, there remain significant barriers to women achieving leadership in higher education teaching and learning. For example, the intersection between gender and race, culture, religion, and/or age present barriers for women aspiring to leadership opportunities and success (Abalkhail, 2017; Bagguley & Hussain, 2014; Davis & Maldonado, 2015). Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges for women. Women working from home during lockdowns faced a number of new demands, such as home schooling and increased carer responsibilities (Walters and Bam, 2021).

Systemic changes are required to address the myriad of barriers, including everyone working together towards a common goal of genuine, substantive gender equality. The good news is that the academic leadership landscape is changing with a much greater emphasis on flexibility, agility, innovation, and team-based structures. More broadly, leadership in higher education is moving towards models that focus on building capacity and capability, as well as shared and distributed leadership. Our Special Issue on Women in Leadership in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education in the Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice (JULTP) provides nuanced insights into the current challenges women face in advancing their higher education careers and brings together some well-conceived models and strategies to build leadership capacity in women.

We encourage leaders to work together to overcome challenges and break down the barriers so that the next generation of female academics can grow and feel supported to undertake leadership roles in higher education teaching and learning.

Professor Angela Carbone, Associate DVC Learning, Teaching and Quality, RMIT @ProfAngeCarbone

Professor Kerryn Butler-Henderson, Interim Associate Dean Applied Health, Director, Digital Health, RMIT @DrKerrynBH


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