Why universities can’t see women as leaders

The roles women take in universities aren’t recognised as routes to the top. But they demand as much drive as the posts traditionally scooped up by men

On International Women’s Day 2017, it is sobering to acknowledge that still, just a fifth of UK higher education institutions are headed by a female vice-chancellor. And nothing’s changing very fast.

Though the percentage of women appointed to lead universities is creeping up – between 2013 and 2016, 29% of new VC recruits were female – the net gain has been negligible.

It’s not, sadly, as if higher education is a particular outlier – just 10% of FTSE 100 companies are led by a female CEO, a quarter of the current cabinet are women, and if we’re talking national newspapers, a paltry 20% of editors are female.

But in a publicly-funded educational setting that has been explicitly committed to equal opportunities for decades now – and with at least equal numbers of men and women studying for degrees – what is stopping highly capable women taking half the seats at the top table?

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