On 20 October 2016, La Trobe Business School hosted its first Intellectual Climate Fund event, a workshop titled: “Women’s Leadership in Business Schools: Opportunities and Challenges”. The workshop was developed by PhD students and was aimed at PhD students and Early Career Researchers. Attendees had the opportunity to discuss current issues with our successful academics. The panel included Professor of Accounting and Associate Head of La Trobe Business School Jane Hamilton, LBS’s Professor of Practice Susan Inglis, LBS’s Associate Professor Suzanne O’Keefe, Head of La Trobe Business School Paul Mather, Dr Jeanette Fyffe from RED and Professor and Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Partnerships) Amalia Di Iorio who chaired the session
The panel spoke about leadership in business schools, and what the opportunities and challenges are for women in this context. According to panel members, there is a great pipeline of female PhD students at business schools, but there is leakage in this pipeline – women are statistically much less likely to end up in a leadership position within the school.
What can women in professional environments do to improve these outcomes? Among a range of issues discussed by the panel, here we identify four key themes that emerged.
1. Redefine your work: beat the imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome – an inability to internalize accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud” – is a common problem among women in professional environments. For the community, it’s important to ask where this phenomenon comes from, and how we can enhance women’s belief in themselves as leaders. “Sometimes it is as simple as redefining your activities,” panel member Associate Professor Suzanne O’Keefe said. “If you are organising a workshop on leadership, don’t look at the footwork– organising catering, inviting people et cetera – as women’s work, but rather, see it as what it is: showing initiative and bringing people together, it will then be easier to see yourself as a leader as well.”
Research has indicated that women are a lot less likely to negotiate their salary than men, especially when it’s not clear if negotiation is expected or not. Research has shown that men negotiate more, and apply for positions with higher salaries more readily and at an earlier stage than women. Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Amalia Di Iorio, was encouraging: “As a woman, don’t be afraid to negotiate, speak up, and take opportunities when they arrive.”
3. Don’t be afraid to challenge feedback.
Panel members also reminded attendees that women shouldn’t hold back when it comes to asking for feedback, or, if you are not sure what certain feedback means, to step forward and ask your manager to clarify their feedback. As a panel member noted, “If you are worried about feedback, take initiative and ask why, respectfully. There is always a chance that it is a misunderstanding, and there is always value in raising this in a conversation.”
4. Have a support network around you.
Receiving difficult feedback is hard for anyone, no matter where you are in your career. It’s important to separate what you are from what you do, and not take things personally. Having a support network around you can help with this: “I find it incredibly useful to have a support network around me, consisting of a number of people from different backgrounds,” Professor of Practice Susan Inglis said. “Talking rough feedback over with peers is a valuable tool to get different perspectives, and see what your options are going forward.”