The College of Humanities hosted a virtual Women in Leadership symposium under the theme Leading with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. This was enabled through a framework to shift mindsets, behaviours, and practices toward equitable and inclusive leadership for women.
The symposium was facilitated by School of Arts academics Drs Miranda Young-Jahangeer and Sandra Pitcher.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize acknowledged that leadership is critical within the South African context. ‘Men still occupy a large space in leadership roles and it is encouraging to see women take the helm of leadership that is informed by Ubuntu values.’
According to the Director (acting) of Professional Services Dr Phumelele Zakwe, the symposium aimed to promote real, sustainable change, and to leverage the full potential of all talent at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). ‘Leading with equity is about recognising that diverse staff have different desires and talents.’ She argued that ‘knowing who you are, your self-worth and your capabilities will empower you to make decisions in leadership roles. Be confident and courageous.’
Professor Cecile Gerwel Proches of UKZN’s Graduate School of Business and Leadership focused on how to lead more effectively in the current Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) context which has impacted us in multiple ways, both personally and professionally. She explored the key aspects that are essential in developing one’s leadership presence to navigate this complexity. Her presentation outlined key traits and characteristics of effective leadership, leadership styles, and critical factors which impact leaders and followers.
‘When tasked with leading others, engage in regular communication, focus on participation from an early stage, and approach the situation with genuine acknowledgement of the multitude of emotions that are present. Let us take this opportunity to develop the skills to become truly effective leaders (in the same vein, effective followers) who are able to engage in collaboration and teamwork to jointly navigate the immense complexity facing us,’ she said.
Professor Noluthando Matsiliza of Walter Sisulu University explored how leaders and women can activate diversity in the workplace. ‘After 27 years of democracy, women are still under-represented. There is progress in the appointment of three female Vice-Chancellors but diversity must steer change, alleviate all inequalities and promote an inclusive work environment.’
Matsiliza identified factors to activate diversity in the workplace such as a good organisational image and diversified organisational culture, promoting collegiality instead of unhealthy cliques, respect for all employees, inclusion of all employees in broad strategic decisions and engagements on gender-based violence (GBV) and support for female leaders.
Dr Janet Muthuki of the School of Social Sciences looked at how leaders and women can elevate equity. She noted that South African HEIs are still undergoing a process of transformation to carve a new identity as inclusive, equitable institutions. ‘Transformation efforts have helped to increase the number of women in universities and have allowed for more Black women to take on management positions. However, Black women in South Africa’s Higher Education Institutions, are still in the minority and are at times excluded,’ she said.
Muthuki recommended that the career cycles along which women develop to become leaders are taken into consideration and implementation of existing National Gender Policy and Employment Equity legislation; identification of professional support and networks for the benefit of women; and mentorship and training opportunities and development on leadership.
‘There should also be leadership shadowing to allow for transfer of knowledge from senior women leaders to their women successors. Administrative structures such as equity offices should be established to monitor progress towards equitable inclusion and representation of women.’
Professor Sarasvathie Reddy of the School of Education gave an account of her leadership journey spanning 20 years from a paramedic to an academic at UKZN. Her journey involved mentoring, upskilling and climbing the academic ladder. Through her reflection, she identified that mentoring is critical. ‘I have been mentored over my 20-year journey and that has been significant in my success. It has also motivated me to mentor others and I am committed to helping others on their leadership journey.’
Professor Yanga Zembe Zondi of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies discussed the issue of leading inclusively. She reflected critically on the sense of belonging as a leadership trait, but also as a tool to dismantle the structures of inequality within HEIs and the workforce. ‘HEIs were not created with the mindset of diversity in terms of people of colour, females, queer bodies and the disabled. In order for HEIs to transform within the sphere of social justice, it is imperative for everyone to fully exist as their true selves. Compartmentalising who you are is a source of distress,’ she said.
Zondi used examples of students and staff who enter HEIs and have to conform to their structures in order to fit in, such as holding back their sexual identity and language preferences, amongst other barriers to self-worth. She also touched on the paradox of women leadership in HEIs and the struggles that women leaders face in these positions. She recommended that HEIs establish a safe environment (inclusive of psycho-social) for staff and students; address GBV, and offer an inclusive curriculum and flexible learning.
The symposium included inspiration videos by Dr Ibukun Awosika, a Nigerian business woman, motivational speaker, and author.
Another Women in Leadership symposium is scheduled for the future.