As a part of EHSU’s Women in Leadership campaign, & to celebrate Women’s Week, we asked some senior members of university staff about their experiences of being a woman in their positions.
First up is Lynda Brady, the only woman member of Edge Hill’s directorate team. She is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) & University Secretary.
- What are the biggest differences noticed in being a woman in leadership compared to the male colleagues?
Obviously I’ve only ever experienced it from one perspective so it’s difficult to know. I would always advocate having leadership teams comprised of different skills and preferences and teams made up of both genders are likely to have a more diverse skills set but it doesn’t always divide on gender lines. I’ve worked with some incredibly sensitive and supportive men and with some very tough, task-focused, insensitive women so I’m wary of stereotyping. Generally speaking though, I’d say women encourage greater reflection and consideration of the broader impacts of decisions, especially how they may impact on colleagues.
- What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
The most significant barrier is still likely to be the practical one: that it’s difficult to be a woman in leadership whilst also being the primary carer for children or other dependents and there is still an expectation that the role of carer is predominately a female one. For me, the solution is two-fold: on a very practical level, we need to improve childcare and social care provision, making it financially accessible for all (this isn’t only about women in leadership but about enabling women in general to remain in employment, thereby sustaining financial independence); at a more fundamental level, we need to address the assumptions that are made about gender roles at a very early age so children don’t grow up with preconceptions about what is and is not possible as a result of gender – but this is a very long term solution. I also think it’s crucial to engage men in this debate as they are as much a key to solving it as are women.
- What women inspire you and why?
Women like my wonderful Mum inspire me: bringing up 7 children; holding down 2 cleaning jobs, one in the morning and one in the evening, to ensure she was at home to have tea on the table every day when we got home from school. There are millions of such women, making enormous sacrifices in their own lives, in the hope that the next generation will have different opportunities and a better life – rarely a day goes by when I don’t count my own blessings because of the sacrifices my Mum made in her life.
- What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you
I’m more concerned about class divides than gender divides. Women & men from wealthy backgrounds, with access to University educations and good connections will be fine. But I worry about the growing economic divide; this includes the increase in tuition fees and the fact that this may deter those from poorer backgrounds thinking University is a real option for them. Without any doubt, going to University transformed my life and opened up a whole world of opportunity for me – enabling everyone to reach their potential in this way is vital, not only for personal fulfillment but also to ensure a fully functioning society which is equipped to compete in a global economy.
We know that women have a hard time smashing the glass ceiling and getting into senior positions or leadership roles. That is why it’s important to talk about the disadvantages that women face, and work on ways to overcome them. Having women in positions of leadership is important, because it’s difficult to be what you cannot see.