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A first in Canada: Women in Academic Leadership


Women considering leadership roles in higher education still often wonder if they are being treated differently based on their gender and question their suitability for a job.

Although we have made progress, in many ways, leadership in higher administration is still a male-dominated world. That’s why the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development (CHERD) created Women in Academic Leadership. This new five-day residential program of workshops, to be held in Winnipeg from Oct. 1 to 5, is an opportunity to build confidence and explore leadership options, with awe-inspiring stories and powerful insights from experienced women mentors.

“We don’t have anything like this in Canada. It’s for women looking at getting into a higher administrative role in academe. If they are thinking, ‘hmmm, I’d like to try this,’ the program will provide mentoring and focus on what they will need,” says Betty Worobec, program consultant and facilitator, and dean of the faculty of science and horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia.

“We can all see some of our faculty members who are perfect candidates for this program. You can tell when someone is going to be a great leader. Hearing the stories from those of us who have gone through the process is awe-inspiring. I remember when I didn’t think I could do it.”

Top (left to right): Denise Henning, Nawal Amar. Bottom (left to right): Steffi Baum, Betty Worobec, Angela Hildyard.

Nawal Ammal, dean of the college of humanities and social sciences at Rowan University in New Jersey, will also mentor. She says, “When I became associate dean, I was the only woman in the dean’s office, all on my own. No other woman administrator was around to talk to. I felt like I was in isolation. Women academic leaders need to understand what is happening to them… We are healthier and happier people when we don’t have to dance around the issues. Women deans should have the tools and the wisdom passed on to them so they can take it and adapt it to their needs.”

An assumption is often made that women don’t want to be leaders, says Angela Hildyard, program consultant who served as a senior academic administrator at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and the University of Toronto for 28 years. “Those of us who have held leadership roles know how demanding – but also how rewarding – such roles can be.  We are here to support our colleagues as they contemplate taking on the challenges of leadership.”

Denise Henning, program consultant and mentor, says, “This is a great opportunity for women to expand. It’s helping to prepare the next generation of women for leadership in colleges and universities.” Dr. Henning served as president and CEO at Medicine Hat College, president and CEO of Northwest Community College, and president and vice-chancellor for University College of the North. She continues to work on higher education initiatives with Kiona – Oxendine & Associates.

“Being female and working in this environment, there are social perceptions and questions we always have to deal with. ‘Why am I being treated this way, differently, as if I am not qualified?’ We need to understand how to navigate through the quagmire and landmines,” says Dr. Henning. “We are all qualified yet women are the first ones to suffer from imposter syndrome. Why don’t we feel like we are on the same level?”

Stefi Baum, program mentor and dean of the faculty of science at the University of Manitoba, says historically, women frequently question their own abilities. “I’m a physicist. I’ve spend my whole life in a male environment. If you are not used to a male-dominated environment, you can feel alone, like you don’t fit in.

“A lot of women are not confident. They are worried about the impact of leadership on their research and home life. They hesitate to try it. They may be very good at it. In this program, they will find helpful leadership skills… I want women to make their own decisions, not to feel this is a path they can’t choose.”

It takes courage to lead, Dr. Baum says. “There is always someone who is unhappy with you. That’s just part of it… It’s a giant mentoring exercise.

“You want women to think there are no barriers, but you know they are going to hit them,” she says. “I know a number of women hovering on the edge of wanting bigger leadership roles. It’s good for them, invaluable to make a connection with someone to mentor and discuss with them. I was lucky to find very good people to mentor me along the way and I still rely on some of them today.”

Connect with and learn from these experienced women at Women in Academic Leadership.

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