Empowerment: making sense of the voices of women about their journey towards their leadership identity in higher education
Marumo, Khomotso Moetanalo Hilda
MetadataShow full item record
The purpose of this study was to make sense out of the voices of women leaders in Higher Education (HE) about their journey towards developing their own leadership identity. Despite the growing body of literature on women in leadership, few studies have empirically investigated the leadership of women – their experience in their journey towards developing their own leadership identity. It is against this background that this study was conducted about the experiences of women in leadership and how they make sense about their journey. In view of empowering other women to become agents of change in constructing their own paths towards idiosyncratic approaches to leadership the women who took part in this study had to narrate their own experiences and achievements. The focus was also on providing direction to potential women leaders in terms of constructing their own paths in empowerment towards innovative and unique leadership in Higher Education. The study had to reflect on how women leaders at two Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) gained mastery over their own careers and how the obstacles and experiences contributed to their growth and success, with a view to contributing to the development of women in HE and their taking up leadership positions. The study was carried out using the qualitative research method to collect data. The study consisted of eight women participants who are currently in leadership positions at two universities. For focus group interviews four women from the two universities were selected as participants in the survey. For personal interviews four women from two different universities were also selected. The narratives of the women who participated in the focus group and personal interviews as a way of collecting data, made it simple for them to tell the story of their experiences in their journey in leadership positions. Purposive sampling was used to select all the participants. The women who participated volunteered and their identity was kept confidential. The internal and external determinants that emanated from women story-telling were used as themes for this study. The themes used were the ones that shaped the women’s identity formation and gave them directives on how to make their voices heard. In their story-telling women indicated that they had had mentors from their community and family; some regarded their fathers as mentors, others their teachers, some had to stand up and become mentors to others. The following objectives were used to make sense of the situation of identity formation in leadership positions: - To explore identity formation and the development of a female leadership identity in particular - To explore the empowerment challenges that female leaders encounter in developing their own identity in taking up leadership positions - To make sense out of the voices of women leaders in Higher Education about their journey towards their own leadership identity. The focus of the study was on the voices of women in leadership positions in terms of their empowerment and making sense of their own leadership identity. The study was conducted in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The interpretive, qualitative approach was used to collect data. Data collected from both interviews were analyzed using the seven properties of sense-making. This approach has the potential to identify problems that at first appear to have nothing to do with the interface between leadership in institutions. The model is suitable when the goal is to make a successful improvement of an existing interruption that occurs when women become leaders where their individual identity has been interrupted to the extent that it resulted in silencing their voices. This will provide a direction to potential women leaders in terms of constructing their own paths in transforming the existing expectations towards innovative and unique approaches to leadership in HE. The study findings show that even though women in leadership positions still face challenges, they have developed their own strategies for making their voices heard. Women know well that authenticity in leading like women is the strong indicator of causing their voices to be heard. The findings indicate that all women identities are influenced by the environment and they also influence the environment. Women as leaders have to extract cues to be able to make sense of the situations they find themselves in. The findings suggest that in both institutions barriers to women advancement still exist, and those barriers are silences which end up making women’s voices not to be heard. A lack of power in women is seen as structural barriers inherited in the academic environment. Women as leaders realize that even though they lack power by not being in top positions where decisions are made, they regain power by empowering themselves and other women, by networking and being ambassadors. The lack of power is due to a gender-based construct. Gender is seen as a pervasive symbol of the power relation. Women have a time in their lives when they become pregnant and take maternity leave. This affects the progression of women’s academic careers and networking. There are other factors that contribute to a lack of power to women, such as personal and psychological barriers and climate issues (Ramphele 2008). A number of factors contribute to keep women out of Higher Education leadership. Women are seen by society as people who fulfil the caring and reproductive roles. There should be a revision of the social structure of the institutions so that women as leaders should be empowered. When woman are empowered, the whole nation is empowered. There are a number of women empowerment projects in South Africa and women are given opportunities and recognition. Yet in HEIs, it seems the entry and recognition of women is minimal. This led the researcher to embark on research on the empowerment of women in the context of academia, considering women as agents of social change that have the capacity to foster structural changes.