Varsities battling gender parity in senior positions

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published Aug 20, 2021

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Edwin Naidu

Despite having capacity building programmes for women, universities across South Africa are struggling to grow the numbers of women, particularly black women in senior management positions, according to Nthabiseng Moleko, the deputy chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE).

She said succession planning at universities in the country failed to purposely target women and persons with disabilities into managerial positions and that the representation of persons with disability at senior management positions was poor.

Even more alarming, the provision of child-care facilities and flexitime was not prioritised for women in what remains male dominated corridors of higher learning.

“Generally, there are not enough resources invested in providing security measures to students who reside outside university residences.

“There are inadequate programmes to support victims of gender based violence.

“Universities generally do not conduct awareness sessions on sexual harassment between students and staff members,” she said.

Moleko is a development economist at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and made her comments in an address on Thursday during a women’s month webinar organised by the Higher Education Resource Services-South Africa (HERS-SA) and Universities South Africa (USAf)'s Transformation Managers Forum (TMF) as part of its series on gender transformation in higher education.

She added that the under-reporting of sexual harassment in universities is often influenced by the lack of confidence in the reporting mechanisms at the institutions.

“Gender diversity and equality generally do not form part of student orientation and staff induction.

“There is generally a lack of proper consultation on issues of LGBTIQA+ inclusivity on campuses,” she said.

Moleko said the commission was in the process of engaging the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande to foster and expedite gender transformation at institutions of higher learning.

In its wide-ranging report on gender in the tertiary sector, she said the commission found that there is generally inadequate budgeting for gender transformation programmes and that most universities relied on Employment Equity Forums to monitor the upward movement of women and persons with disabilities to top and senior management.

But these forums are not adequately addressing gender imbalances.

She said the commission has made various recommendations to all institutions to fast track gender transformation in respect of practices, policies, culture and measures at institutions of higher learning.

But the pace of transformation has been slow.

“Despite commitments, most universities have not practically achieved diversity and inclusivity,” she said.

Sexual harassment was also prevalent at institutions of higher learning, predominately in a form of sex-for-marks involving lecturers and students.

Furthermore, sexual harassment policies are not communicated with students and general staff members.

The commission found that during orientation of first year learners, most universities do not induct first year learners on sexual harassment policies.

Similarly during induction of new staff members minimal time is invested of sexual harassment policies.

It was found that generally sexual harassment policies were largely focused on employees to the exclusion of learners.

It was found that the uncertainty around sexual harassment policy framework at universities has contributed to students and staff members not reporting such matters at the university out of fear of victimisation.

In some instances students report sexual harassment after a long period.

On the same webinar, Thandi Mgwebi, the Deputy vice-chancellor: Research, Innovation and Internationalisation at the Nelson Mandela University, said black female academics are experiencing overt and covert racism, sexism and patriarchy.

Her address was a reflection on the report of the Ministerial Task Team on Recruitment, Retention and Progression of Black South African Academics.

There was a steady increase in the number of black scholars with doctoral degrees.

But at the same time, white graduates still made up the largest single group of graduates at this level.

Quoting from a Council on Higher Education report, she said there were 9 979 (52.96%) black academics (made up of African – 7 068 (37.51%), Coloured – 1 312 (6.96%), Indian/Asian – 1 559 (8.49%)) compared to 8 863 (47.04%) white academics.

Mgwebi spoke of addressing with urgency the postgraduate pipeline, dealing with academic staff participation and progression patterns, tackling alienating and exclusionary institutional cultures and practices, and making a difference regarding the recruitment, retention and progression of black South African academics

In a 2016 parliamentary address, Nzimande raised the question asking: “What is holding black academics back?”

A Ministerial Task Team (MTT) was commissioned to study the recruitment, retention and progression of South African black academics in an attempt to address the question of the paucity of black professors in the higher education and training landscape.

But Mgwebi said the challenges in attracting and retaining talented academics, particularly black staff, remain with no existing tangible solution or strategy to respond to this crisis facing higher education.

Brightness Mangolothi, director: HERS-SA, said the discussions this year ongoing until the end of the month, sought to dig deeper and explore more issues pertinent to addressing the gender challenges far more effectively.

“Women suggested more conversations that would look more holistically at their plight.

“More importantly, they want to create a think-tank that will influence policies and institutional cultures.”

Within the broad context of gender transformation in higher education, the 2021 programme unpacks topics, such as why achieving diversity in academic staff is slow.

The online webinars will interrogate transformation experiences of non-academic staff and explore why academic institutions need ombudsman services.

In line with the TMF mandate, the Women’s Month series is creating a platform for stakeholders to engage with pressing issues and hear various expert perspectives while continuing to facilitate networking through the exchange of much-needed information and insights.

TMF chairperson, George Mvalo, said due to these stimulating engagements, many participants have grown to realise the agency role they can play in their own work environments.

Mangolothi said she wanted to begin to propose interventions and encourage agency at all levels of the institutions in a more holistic manner.

For Mangolothi, the appointment of female vice-chancellors Professor Puleng LenkaBula

at the University of South Africa and Professor Rushiella Songca at the Walter Sisulu University in 2020 were testament that conversations on transformation and women empowerment were not in vain.

But clearly, the time for talking is over because the facts show that while there are rapid changes in the demographics of the student population, staff diversity, particularly advancing the role of women, continues at a snail pace.

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