Boardroom imbalance

July 17, 2014

The news that Wendy Purcell has been put on leave by Plymouth University’s board of governors is distressing. She has both a national and an international profile and is one of a small cadre of female vice-chancellors who are role models for women aspiring to leadership roles in higher education and/or careers in science. A BBC news report refers to a “serious clash of personalities”, a phrase that sets alarm bells ringing for many of us who work in the field of diversity and inclusion.

Whatever the reason for the current internal review, regrettably it is taking place against a backdrop of very serious gender imbalance in the university’s leadership. Only one of the 11 external governors for 2013-14, presumably those leading the review and putting the vice-chancellor on leave, is a woman. Internally, both of the deputy vice-chancellors are men and nine out of 10 of the deans and pro vice-chancellors are men. Two of three named directors are women, but this still leaves female leaders distinctly in the minority.

Is the serious lack of women in leadership roles a contributing factor to the contentious situation in which the university now finds itself? The business case for gender-diverse teams in terms of organisational performance, risk assessment, innovation and emotionally intelligent leadership has been well documented, and there is a public expectation of fairness and inclusiveness.

As part of its review, should the board of governors cast a very critical eye on its own diversity and what appears to be its inability to attract and retain women as independent board members? Surely stakeholders – students, staff, public funders, corporate partners and the community – deserve no less.

Norma Jarboe
Author of WomenCount: Leaders in Higher Education 2013

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy