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    Gender Inequality in Higher Education

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    The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework of the field project, for the inclusion of women into decision-making leadership roles as an added component of a learning organization. The research on women in higher education leadership uses the metaphor “glass ceilings”, a term coined by Berheide (1992), represent the unseen barriers that prevent a skilled and competent person from advancing in their career. Concrete measures and ideas are needed to achieve gender equality in educational organizations, for change to occur. The framework will enable the women to have a sense of confidence and assimilation into the culture to have an equal share in the distribution of power, knowledge, capacity and resources.

    However, according to Klein quoted in Carol (1997), every change agent has experienced resistance, and the writings of practitioners are rich in “war stories” (p. 917). The exclusion of resistance is perplexing to supporters of organizational change who confront the politics of resistance. Carol reveals that “rather than taking a problem-solving approach and recognizing that change involves identifying and removing barriers to equality, decision-makers resist change by arguing that they are protecting the institution from such perils as “reverse discrimination’, ‘quotas’, or hiring the unqualified”(p. 11). However, to ensure the full participation of women, there is a strong need to transform educational policies and foster activities related to gender equality into implementation/action.

    A description of the Site/case to Study Organizational Learning or Change

    The site to study the change is a ‘higher education institution’ located in the rural setting of the large town of Punjab, officially accredited by University Grants Commission, India. The organization offers higher education degrees such as pre-bachelor’s degrees (certificates, diplomas), bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, doctorate degrees in various fields. In terms of diversity, the organization holds more than 3000 international students from 70+ nations in addition to around 18,000 domestic students.

    This institution has given me an opportunity to work in a leadership position for four years. I tried hard to prove my worth on the job working late hours and earned a good reputation in the organization. However, when I got married, things kind of changed for me. I have witnessed one oppression “motherhood penalty” of gender inequality that changed my life forever. I didn’t know whether it was just me or every woman in this country who faces power, politics and gender inequality at the workplace, at one or another point in their lives. I must say that men have that invisible privilege. Neil et al. (2008) succinctly explain that male-dominated organizations are not gender-neutral, instead, they reflect the environment where the presence, performance and success of women are scrutinized, measured, and evaluated very differently from men.

    The authors, Paula and Kate (2017), outlined the perception of educational leaders that women are not meeting the demands of educational leadership and have identified women as “the problem”. However, women are highly affected by leadership communities of practice of masculinities that made it difficult for them to progress in their careers. That clearly illustrates that women in leadership positions struggle in their career progression. Then I tried to find answers to the issues that stumped me and found that women who are into the leadership roles in that institution are single, divorcee or with no children. I have found that all women are similarly situated in patriarchy and thus have intuitive solidarity because of structural inequality based on gender in India.


    Gender is a negligent category of analysis in most of India’s higher education policy documents. There are a plethora of barriers leading to the absence of women in leadership in India. According to Chowdhury and Patnaik (2013), in Indian families, “both boys and girls grow with a special value attached to the male child” (p. 61). Because of traditional male hegemony at the root level, patriarchal attitude governs women’s perceived lack of self-esteem. In the largest societal context, the barriers found are social and cultural-religious stereotypes i.e. ‘cultural dust’ such as gender bias, family constraints, childcare, domestic violence, cultural identity, and marginalization of an ethnic minority. Furthermore, as noted in Chanana (2003), 26% of married women reported career disruptions due to the demands of their husband’s career and 26% had frequent job changes due to other family responsibilities indicated women’s low participation rate in a leadership role. This reflects inequalities and raised questions about gender bias in the process.

    In India, women’s representation in leadership positions is meagre 3% to 5.8 % as compared to 15% in the West (Catalyst, 2011). All India Survey on Higher Education (2013) revealed that the enrolment for Ph.D. in science subjects is 22.97 percent for women in comparison to 21.60 percent for men but lagging in engineering and management studies. Gupta (2007) notes in his study on doctoral students, gender discrimination by revealing that men are more likely to have informal interactions with their supervisors. As a result, women need to work hard than men to prove themselves. Moreover, it has been noted by Bal (2004), that even in sciences, the number of research publications by women and academic representations in prestigious groups and permanent positions is low in number than men.

    In reviewing the research, it appears that women’s progress laid on one’s family and family roles that create a major hindrance in career progress, irrespective of progressive policies being undertaken by the Government of India. This dominating patriarchy system is a potential threat, stopping the women to contribute actively in leadership roles. Valian (1999) revealed that gender stereotypes are stronger in male-dominated professions. The traditional gender ideologies and practices, in turn, influence the women in higher education organizations in India. Now, the women have come a long way and as per the Ministry of Human Resource and Development, India, where girls constitute 44.4% of total enrollment in higher education. My concern is, despite more enrollment in higher education than men, why do women not become involved when it comes to a leadership role?


    The purpose of this paper is to evaluate how and to what extent gender disparities are imitated in organizations especially the higher education organizations in India, employing educated professionals. This research project aimed to study the position of women in the leadership of masculinity and the issues and inequalities, withdrawing opportunities for professional women to rise in leadership positions and the organizational change required to overcome the barriers.

    Proposed Planned Design/Methods/Activities

    The core aim of this framework is to discuss the reasons for the lack of women’s representation in decision making, limiting their influence and to address those gaps in the policy documents. Based on the point of view that gender is socially structured, this paper will examine gender inequality in the cited organization through semi-structured interviews of both men and women faculty members in the leadership roles. At each stage of the project study, the questions in the interview would be on power,capabilities, gender equality, hierarchical culture, caste, patriarchy, work-family responsibilities, family with children, informal/formal relations, competition among themselves, mentoring, training, marriage, pregnancy-related attitude, maternity leave, human rights, pension rights etc.

    The semi-structured interviews would be conducted with full time employed 20 men and 20 women leaders who are working on campus in the organization since 2015, with an average age of 30 – 60 years. Although the selection of leaders only for the research can be biased, the logic for this study is the purposeful sampling that lies in the selection of information-rich cases for in-depth study (Patton, 2001). Each semi-structured interview will last for probably an hour. All reactions and replies will be recorded using a digital recorder. However, it is understood in the narrative inquiry by Reissman (1993), that even with great care, transcriptions are “incomplete, partial, and selective” as they are part of an interpretive practice (p. 11). To address that, field notes will be taken during and after the interviews to have more reliability of data. The descriptive data will then carefully be analyzed to understand the repercussions to provide the participants with a copy.

    This research project will provide a better understanding of addressing the issues of equity associated with women’s experiences in higher education by making institutional cultural change. Schein (1985) defined organizational culture as “a pattern of basic assumptions— invented, discovered or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration—that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (p. 9). White and Cooper (2017) emphasizes that leadership does not exist in a vacuum (p. 442) and concerning women leadership in higher education in India, I understand that the three goals underpinning this research are required to address the problems and to evaluate the solutions to achieve the organizational power dynamics for “cultural change” of an organization: 1) Grassroot level involvements promoting gender equality 2) Tactical initiatives promoting participation, mentoring, networks and, quota systems, and 3) Facilitating policy framework for economic empowerment

    • Goal 1: Grass root level involvements promoting gender equality

    To ensure the participation of women, the primary requirement is to change the mindset of society. The ideologies that categorize men and women with their roles in a family where men being accountable in the domain of work and financial matters, but on the other hand, women being responsible for taking care of the family and household chores (Ahmed &Carrim, 2016).

    I remember that while my post-doctorate studies at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, there were partnership programs initiated by the Institute in collaboration with the state government, to promote the avenues for women leadership in higher education. I understand that there is a strong need for the joint exploration of educational institutes and the Government for sensitization and awareness to spearhead the involvement of women in higher education leadership. However, the valuable initiatives required to be taken by organizations, government, institutions, and society/individuals to encourage diversity requires long term efforts from all, resulting in an awareness of the rights that will help curtail the misleading stereotypes in society.

    • Goal 2: Tactical initiatives promoting participation, quota systems, mentoring, and training (see Action Plan 1)

    To promote the participation of women in leadership positions, strategic initiatives such as mentoring, networking, women leadership programs, and training helps in the retention of young women leaders from diverse backgrounds. Mentoring initiatives for young women leaders use the elements of transformational leadership through the critical reflection in the development of 1) Idealized influence i.e. purpose-driven 2) Inspirational motivation 3) Individualized consideration i.e. having a genuine concern for the others and, 4) Intellectual stimulation (Northouse, 2016). As noted by Goleman (1998), the studies of leadership competencies revealed that women are more aware of their emotions, show more empathy, and are more adept interpersonally, whereas men are more self-confident, optimistic, adaptable, and able to manage stress. Eagly et al. (2003) explicitly stated that female managers tend to adopt a transformational leadership style while mentoring and attending to followers as individuals. Individuals who have mentors are often more satisfied, more highly paid, and have more interpersonal competence (de Janasz et al., 2003).

    • Goal 3: Facilitating policy framework for economic empowerment (see Action Plan 2)

    Possible Issues That Could Emerge

    This research might increase more biases or inequalities as this sensitive topic might cause distress. Participants might not pay attention to recognize their own unconscious biases. The difficulty in engaging men as the perceptions of the male faculty members on the experiences of female faculty members might differ from each other. There could be issues of knowledge generation, ownership, and exploitation, validity and effectiveness of cross-cultural field project, funding issues, and system that challenges the social hierarchy.

    Handling of Ethical Issues

    Full informed consent will be taken from the participants. Participants will make aware of their right to refuse to participate at any time without penalty. They will be assured that their identity will remain confidential during and after the research so as not to worry about losing credibility with the organization. Building trust with participants during the interview will allow them to speak freely, honestly without anxiety. Participants will also be informed that they will be able to make corrections and clarifications and add to their answers. Further, the participants will be assured confidentiality for storage of the data collected, e.g. digital files, hard copies, audio recordings and to use the data in the future with plans for the destruction of the data.

    There can be an issue of vulnerability while working with participants from vulnerable groups such as women that requires a certain sensitivity. There might be a question of power because the interviewer has some power over the direction of the conversation. The participant can feel misrepresented and the issue of power is of great importance to vulnerable groups. The desire for an interviewer to expose more problems to become a change agent in society can create more political issues. There can be a potential harm to both, the interviewer and the participant if the researcher is inexperienced.


    The findings of this study will provide an insight into the experiences of women in higher education leadership. As Thomas et al. (2004) emphatically state that “Higher education institutions must create a culture and infrastructure supportive of women. This means that the culture, structure, policies and rewards must be consistent with promoting diversity and women in the organization” (p. 70). Despite the considerable efforts of perseverance by women to juggle multiple roles, the challenge still exists. In order to ‘fit’ women within the male culture of higher education, gender disparity resulting in more women quitting academia completely. Due to the lack of mentorship, networks and support from the institution, the structure of the system makes it challenging for women to advance into leadership positions. This research will connect the deeply ingrained gender bias in the social system with the workforce within higher education.

    Moreover, it will confirm the rationale of this research that higher education institutions must create an environment conducive to foster equity with socio-cultural change as a scholarship for the future. However, the sole responsibility for initiating the change should not be only on women. Until the “institutional cultural change’ of higher education is recognized and addressed, women will continue to face the ingrained masculine hegemony.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Gender Inequality in Higher Education. (2021, Jul 28). Retrieved from

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