Gender Bias in Higher Education: Why We Need to Develop Self-Aware Leaders

Gender Bias in the Academy: Abstract Image of Reflections

Implicit gender bias is systemic even in the egalitarian environment of higher education, and developing self-awareness in our leaders is the key to challenging it. Yet the "don't rock the boat" culture of higher ed often gets in our way. Let's look at how to counter that. This is the third in a series of articles on challenging androcentrism in the academy.

by Rosalind Spigel, Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach, Spigel Consulting 

Previous articles in this series:
Challenging Androcentrism and Implicit Bias in the Academy
Challenging Androcentrism in the Academy: Why We Need to Value Empathy More

In this third article, we'll look at one set of leadership traits we identified earlier in the series: self-awareness. We'll examine:

  1. Why this leadership competency is linked to high performance.
  2. How androcentrism and implicit bias limit our ability to recognize and leverage this leadership competency in higher education.
  3. How we can take steps to improve this situation - at the organizational level, at the team level, and as individuals.

Leadership: Where Self-Awareness is Critical

Self-awareness and self-development go hand in hand. Self-awareness includes knowing your values, motivators, behaviors, habits, strengths, edges, personality traits, filters, and triggers. For self-awareness to make a difference for you as leader and in your environment, you also have to understand the impact your words and actions have on the people around you and the results you seek. Self-development is doing the work to understand what makes you tick, and self-awareness informs what behaviors to change in order to improve your effectiveness in communicating and in your performance. And understanding your own strengths and edges will help inform your team building because you will include and appreciate the colleagues whose strengths are your edges.

Self-aware leaders have the ability to self-monitor. They share information and feelings appropriately, and this helps establish trust, workplace satisfaction, and organizational commitment (Avolio, Walumbwa, Weber, p. 424). These traits have been traditionally seen as "feminine." Take the recent film Wonder Woman for an example. In the movie, Diana's innocence is crushed outside the bubble of her childhood home, but her beliefs and her sense of self stays strong. She knows when and how to modify her behavior to relate to and engage her team, when to compromise, when to attack, and when to hold her ground.

However, self-awareness is a critical trait for any leader, and in higher education it's especially important that we learn to prize this trait and support its development. Self-awareness and reflection at all levels of university leadership are key to dismantling the impact of androcentrism in the academy.

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