Let’s celebrate the qualities women bring to higher education leadership

Şerife Eyüpoğlu reflects on her experiences in higher education and the benefits women’s leadership styles can offer

Şerife Eyüpoğlu's avatar
20 Feb 2024
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In a boardroom, a group of women discuss the charts on the screen

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Near East

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Working in academia is a two-sided coin. Of course, it’s extremely satisfying, from sharing knowledge with students to researching interesting topics to contributing to the existing literature. But challenges are rife in today’s world of higher education, with research and teaching requiring a heavy workload of administrative tasks, pressure to publish research in journals and technological advancements that require constant adaptation.

Female leaders in higher education might approach balancing the two sides of the coin in a different way from men. Through their leadership styles, female leaders can bring a lot to institutions by creating more supportive, inclusive and conducive environments – ultimately making the academic world more resilient.

From my experiences as a female leader in higher education I can say the following:

Female leaders tend to display a more collaborative approach to communication by encouraging participation and dialogue. I prefer to encourage members of my faculty to share their perspectives so they feel that they are being heard. This helps to bring a sense of being valued especially important when there are quieter and more reserved members of staff. 

Maintaining relationships among faculty members is of concern for leaders, therefore the resolution of conflicts is a priority. For instance, I encourage open dialogue and constructive conversation, allowing for everyone involved in a conflict to reach a satisfactory compromise, as well as understanding the underlying causes of the conflict. This helps to build respect and trust among colleagues. 

Female leaders might also prefer to reward performance through simple but influential methods. For instance, I appreciate my staff’s efforts with a simple “thank you” and “keep up the good work” and this works wonders! It contributes to encouraging continuous improvement and indicates my support towards constant contribution, bringing a sense of recognition and engagement.

Female leaders often prioritise supporting and mentoring efforts. I give importance to the supporting and mentoring of academics right at the beginning of their careers. New academics are enthusiastic and often want to bring new perspectives and innovative ideas to their fields – so, by supporting them, I am actually fostering their innovation and creativity. We’re in an era where the downsides of an academic career tend to outweigh the upsides. Supporting and mentoring can increase the likelihood of staff retention, especially among the newest academics. This brings a sense of belonging.

Finally, and probably one of the most important practices of female leaders, is the tendency to place great emphasis on achieving a satisfactory work-life balance. I tend to rearrange work schedules for academics with young children, male or female, giving them the flexibility to carry out personal as well as workplace commitments. This allows for a healthier balance between work and personal lives, enhancing satisfaction and staff retention – and, most importantly, a sense of well-being.

The higher education environment is continually evolving, mainly due to technological changes and advances, as well as societal and economic changes and challenges. Good leadership is crucial because it shapes the direction, strategies and culture of higher education institutions, which in turn affects faculty, students, research and society as a whole. We must recognise that effective leadership qualities are not dependent on one’s sex but rather are shaped by a combination of individual traits and skills, as well as experiences.

Both men and women can be successful as leaders. However, the leadership approaches exercised by female leaders, having been socialised through traditional gender roles, equipping them with the transferable skills necessary for the above-mentioned practices, can make a difference and contribute immensely to the success and sustainability of higher educational institutions today.

Şerife Eyüpoğlu is the dean of the faculty of economics and administrative sciences and the chair of the department of business administration at Near East University.

If you would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the Campus newsletter.

See our International Women’s Day spotlight for more advice and resources from women leaders in higher education.


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