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At the top, women still can't get a break from stereotypes ..

Senior managers 'unjustly' perceive women as poor at delegating. Melanie Newman reports

Perceptions that women are poor at delegating tasks are among the gender stereotypes that hamper the progression of women into senior management roles in universities, according to new research.

Barbara Bagilhole, professor of social policy and equal opportunities at Loughborough University, asked 26 vice-chancellors, senior managers and headhunters about the skills they believed were necessary for senior management jobs in British and Australian universities.

The ability to delegate was identified as essential. "Some women admitted that they had difficulty delegating or were perceived, they considered unjustly, to be poor at delegation," says the paper, published this month in Tertiary Education and Management.

One head of human resources interviewed said the ability to delegate was "not there for many women", while a pro vice-chancellor said that lack of delegation was "the single biggest flaw of women managers". A recruitment consultant linked this to women's "lack of single-mindedness" as they focus jointly on career and family.

Aspiring female senior managers should be aware that delegation can be a defining characteristic of their performance, Professor Bagilhole warned. She told Times Higher Education: "While there is a stereotypical perception that women don't like to delegate because of a need for control, they may find delegation hard because they are in an all-male environment that is not supportive."

Women's leadership styles were perceived as being different from those of men in other ways. One interviewee described female management style as "about caring", while a recruitment consultant said they were seen as more intuitive.

Women are also disadvantaged by the informal processes used to select managers, the paper says. One head of human resources said: "In old universities, it's done by internal promotion. Men are groomed in senior men's likeness." Where the existing management was "conservative male", they would often fail to recommend that women be shortlisted. Women were encouraged by headhunters to apply as the "token woman", only there to make the shortlist look diverse, the paper says.

Having obtained a post, women are excluded from male circles, Professor Bagilhole's paper says. A deputy dean said: "If you don't wear a grey suit, have grey balding hair and run or play golf, you hit the glass ceiling." Several female vice-chancellors said they had experienced more gender discrimination once they had moved to very senior roles.

Female senior managers complained of being trapped into pastoral care roles or becoming workhorses. A female dean said: "I became the official faculty counsellor. I had no time to do my 'real' work."

The paper concludes that women should develop strong networks to provide support in the face of exclusion from male support systems. Professor Bagilhole also suggests that programmes to encourage women leaders, which are currently aimed at deans and more senior staff, should target women lower down the chain.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

PERCEPTIONS OF WOMEN

"The females I know don't delegate and they micro-manage".

Pro vice-chancellor

"Women possibly micro-manage out of a sense of being over-conscientious".

Pro vice-chancellor

"Productive procrastination is useful at times ... Men are very good at this, not women".

Deputy dean

"Women are generally more patient and less likely to rush things".

Deputy dean

"Women are more open".

Vice-chancellor.

Readers' comments (2)

  • In the early '70s I undertook a survey of women UK academic scientists. Can it really be true things have changed so little in terms of attitudes (if not in terms of some aspects of formal employment)?

    Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason women - apparently - have to work harder, and check things out more, is that the chaps don't always collaborate as readily with women as with other chaps?

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  • In the College of Arts and Humanities in my institution, 4/5 of the senior managers are male, 3/4 heads of research institutes, 15/17 chairs - and this in a subject area which recruits more women than men at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and whose biggest grant getters and publishers at staff level are female.
    Homosocial reproduction - the further up the management chain you go, the more risky the decisions are - and the more likely management are to recruit people like themselves to top table.

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