Gender, Power and Management: A Cross‐Culture Analysis of Higher Education

Mary Ann Danowitz (Gender and Diversity Management Group, Vienna University Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 20 September 2011



Danowitz, M.A. (2011), "Gender, Power and Management: A Cross‐Culture Analysis of Higher Education", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 30 No. 7, pp. 615-618.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Gender, Power and Management offers a picture, in broad brushstrokes, of men and women currently working in higher education senior management teams in eight national contexts. The book, based primarily on interviews with 161 managers (86 female, 75 male) in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, and the UK, is concerned with how men and women think about performance in top management jobs as well as their influence in universities. The book breaks new ground as the first multinational study of this increasingly influential cadre of academic managers.

In the introduction, Barbara Bagilhole, Professor of Equal Opportunities and Social Policy at Loughborough University (UK), and Kate White, Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University (Australia), describe their book as providing “a comprehensive analysis of gender and power in universities and their impact on the representation of women in university senior management” (p. 1). The book explores the pathways into formal university leadership positions, the dynamics of men and women working together, and the broader organizational context. Further, it analyses whether or not women make a distinctive contribution to university decision making and the impact of organizational cultures on their managerial and leadership effectiveness.

The impetus for the book – and the study on which it is based – came out of the editors' collaborative scholarship. That partnership had its beginnings at the European Gender Equality in Higher Education Conference in 2000 in Zürich. Their demographic documentation about the status of women in senior management and identification of skill requirements for effective management generated the interest of other feminist researchers in higher education, who went on to build on Bagilhole and White's work with the development of a nine‐member international network in 2007. The goal of the network was to support research on senior managers and their organizations in three areas:

  1. 1.

    getting into and advancing in senior management;

  2. 2.

    the dynamics of men and women working together on senior management teams; and

  3. 3.

    organizational culture and the role of rectors, vice‐chancellors, and presidents.

It was this undertaking that undergirds Gender, Power and Management.

Chapter 1, “Legislative frameworks for equal opportunities,” by Kate White, examines the eight countries mentioned above in terms of data from the Global Gender Gap Index and extant legislative frameworks for equal opportunity, including those of the European Union (EU). These “landscapes,” sketching the legal and public policy frameworks of the countries, contextualize the primary data and findings presented in the book and show that employment conditions differ considerably from country to country, e.g. Sweden's gender equality policy to provide the same opportunities, rights, and responsibilities for women and men in all areas of life, or Turkey, which does not have equal employment legislation.

Chapter 2, “Gender equality and the shift from collegiality to managerialism,” by Anita Göransson, Uppsala University (Sweden), shows that senior managers both in different countries and within the same country can be located at different points of university of managerial governance schemes. Making use of the interviews, Göransson shows that neither model is more conducive to gender equality. Moreover, the chapter presents Halford, Savage, and Witz's description of approaches for understanding the gendering of organizations and the implications of different gender orders on participants' responses.

Chapter 3, “Research design,” by Jenny Neale, Victoria University (New Zealand) and Özlem Özkanli, Ankara University (Turkey), identifies the three phases of the research project: the quantitative analysis of female representation in each country, the interviews, and the development of interventions for women who are interested in applying for senior management positions. They explain their use of a feminist lens to emphasize women's experiences in senior management as well as the different ethics of each country. The latter highlights the importance being sensitive to contextual differences when obtaining approval to conduct research with human subjects.

Chapter 4, “Senior management in higher education,” by Teresa Carvalho, University of Aveiro and the Center for Research in Higher Education Policies (both in Portugal) and Maria de Lourdes Machado, also of the Center for Research in Higher Education Policies, identify ways leadership roles are developing in different countries and describe how stereotypes still predominate in leadership roles. Yet, these stereotypes do not necessarily lead to feminine subordination but may have the reverse effect; at times they are used to increase the visibility of “the feminine.”

Chapter 5, “Paths to success in senior management,” by Sarah Riordan, a consultant working in South Africa, illuminates the career experiences of study participants with a major finding: Almost all the participants reported being invited or encouraged to apply for senior positions, all experienced heavy time commitments (with work being central to their life), and most saw the benefits of the role outweighing the heavy work demands. Cultural contexts and roles influence the need for different competencies – except for being taken seriously as a leader, which was often based on a strong academic orientation.

Chapter 6, “Doing senior management,” by Jenny Neale, looks at the dynamics of senior managers in their universities. It points out that although, at the individual level, women may not conform to stereotypes, group ascription still holds. More important, the data also show the “think manager, think male” approach is not a universal norm and that men and women choose from a range of management styles. Indeed, the majority of those interviewed think that heterogeneous management teams of women and men lead to better decisions by incorporating differing perspectives and having strengths to offset weaknesses.

Chapter 7, “Where do women fit in university senior management? An analytical typology of cross‐national organizational cultures,” by Pat O'Connor, University of Limerick (Ireland), analyses the variations among organizational cultures with a focus on gender. This chapter presents patterns of responses by nation, thereby offering a nuanced understanding that contributes to credibility in cross‐national or comparative management and organizational studies. It shows that Turkish and Portuguese participants are the most likely to identify gender as important in universities, are more likely to have collegial, rather than managerial institutional cultures, and are located in societies where women have the lowest educational and political participation rates of the eight countries in the study. “Among the Irish, UK, Australian, New Zealand and South African respondents, there are references, particularly by women, to a pro‐male culture, which is reflected in homosociability and in subtle ways of privileging men and marginalizing women” (p. 175).

The final chapter, “Towards interventions for senior women in higher education,” by Barbara Bagilhole and Kate White, is a highly readable and concise summary of the previous chapters highlighting key findings. First, there is no clear answer to the question about whether collegial and managerial models have differing impacts on the opportunities for women senior managers in universities. Second, having participants perceived that “having both women and men in senior management teams produced better decision‐making” (p. 196). Finally, Bagilhole and White make the case for interventions to support women aspiring to senior administrative positions, discussing what types of interventions would be most helpful; at what level the interventions should occur.

The book is a superb example of international collaboration, providing details from the principles of sharing of data, the adaptation to human subject ethics in different countries, and the description of the methodology. It also demonstrates that in an area of research that is not generally consider a high priority by policy makers, a group of scholars can produce a cross‐national study fueled more by commitment and determination than finances.

Another strong feature of the book is the wealth of resources and supporting literature in every chapter. These materials provide useful recommendations for further reading related to the questions the book addresses: changes in university governance structures, equal opportunity laws in the represented countries, women in management, gender and leadership, gender and careers, and gendered organizational cultures.

Although I found the book useful and interesting in a variety of ways, in the end, I found myself asking a few questions: What would the findings have looked like if the authors had considered the ways in which gender is shaped by senior managers' multiple identities? For example, research from higher education (Smith, 2009) and gender studies (Wing, 2003) has critiqued the unilateral approach for studying individuals and groups, suggesting that this view tends to reify the majority – White, married, heterosexual. So while race is described as a priority over gender in South Africa – I wanted to know across the different countries what is the difference if the senior administrator is responding is a Black woman, White woman or Maori man or with other non‐dominant identity dimensions?

Another question was how does one make sense of all the material in the book? Some chapters identified patterns by sex of the respondent, some without considering the respondents' sex, and some identified patterns by nation? All the chapters piqued my interest; I wanted to know more in order to see how the various findings fit together.

As the editors note in their introduction, “the aim of this book is to provide a comprehensive analysis of gender and power in universities and their impact on the representation of women in university senior management” (p. 1). In my view, these are complex phenomena that are highly dependent on context and making sense of these phenomena is a challenging undertaking. As such, the authors have made a superb attempt and this is an important book to further knowledge and practice related to gender and management in higher education.


Smith, D. (2009), Diversity's Promise to Higher Education: Making It Work, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Wing, A. (Ed.) (2003), Critical Race Feminism: A Reader, 2nd ed., New York University Press, London.

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