Case Study: Women Leadership Development

A leading South African academic institution identified the need for a leadership programme specialising in the development of women leaders. In addressing the gap of women in leadership roles, the importance of gender mainstreaming highlights the necessity of women only interventions. Women leaders face numerous challenges and opportunities leading in the context of higher education which is an ecosystem of political, social and economic shift. It calls for the capacity to manage the complexity that multiple roles and responsibilities bring.

Flexibility within a framework

The women participants enter the programme with an awareness of the outline of what the 9-month journey will entail. The programme follows the methodology based on Otto Schamer’s Theory U which offers a structured flow for the organic unfoldment of growth and development. Assessment tools that support the programme and journey of each woman includes a self-awareness model, the Enneagram for understanding motivation and behaviour and the Expanded Identity Theory (EIT) for leadership maturity. Aephoria’s one-on-one discussions with each woman exploring their results and outcome objectives for the programme supported input of relevant themes into the design for each specific group.

It’s all about experiential learning

There is a clear distinction about this programme that sets it apart from other leadership programmes. The focus is on building soft skills through the awareness of self and others, understanding and navigating the higher education context and what it means to be a women leader in this context. A brief description of the content includes:

  • Leadership presence
  • Career clarity
  • Appreciating academic institutions
  • Awareness of institutional history
  • Gender shrewdness
  • Understanding of intersectionality
  • Networking
  • Negotiation
  • Receiving and giving feedback

The programme kicked off with what is called a Sensing Journey. The Sensing Journey is designed to provide an environment of engagement that is beyond the usual context and comfort zone of the participating women. It provides them with an opportunity to interact with stakeholders within their context, for example, with students at their lunchtime canteens. It also pushes their boundaries on the subjects of inclusion and feminism. One of these excursions included a visit to the Constitution Hill’s Women’s Jail.

The tone for the duration of the programme follows from the Sensing Journey and supports the group learning environment. Deep and vulnerable sharing creates the possibility to learn from each other and the facilitators enable a safe ‘container’ for the duration of the programme to facilitate the embodiment of leadership through experiential learning.

A network of support

In support of the individual learning process, each woman selects a personal coach to focus on her personal agenda and challenges. The coaching partnership promotes thinking out of the box, developing action-based solutions and accomplishing inspiring and attainable goals.

Engaging with other women leaders in this space brings insights and opportunities through the sharing of personal leadership stories. Stories of triumph’s and failures, of knowing when to stand up or let go and how it was done encourages leaning into leadership and sense of that it is possible.

A series of lunchtime sessions take place during the 9-month period, where the women connect with senior leaders and engage in topics that promote inclusion and the feminist agenda at the institution.

The women reported on the raised levels of confidence, a renewed sense of self-belief and a clearer leadership identity. This was visible in the action of participants applying and negotiating for promotions which they hadn’t considered before and with the support of the network, felt encouraged that it could be done.

The openness and willingness of the women participating and being present to all aspects of the programme plays an important role in its success and impact.