Women's experience in leadership roles: Increasing our understanding of leadership
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Sinclair (1998) argues that the absence of attention that has been given to women in leadership roles is reflected in the ways leadership concepts have been defined in both organisations and in research. Through increasing our understanding of women?s leadership experience, that is paying attention to their experience, more inclusive descriptions of leadership are possible. Taking a feminist perspective and a phenomenological approach, this paper reports on the findings of research that is seeking to understand the essence of women?s experience in leadership roles in selected Australian universities.Semi-structured in depth-interviews were conducted with thirty-four women in recognised leadership roles in eleven different universities in three states and one territory. One of the interesting findings is the level of consistency in the women?s stories across levels, types of institutions (sandstone, technology or new universities) and locations. With how it feels to be a woman leader as a central core, four super-categories have been identified that relate to women?s experience in leadership roles. They are ?stepping through the door? which explains the processes by which women enter leadership positions, that is, what is the trigger; ?sitting in the chair? which focuses on doing the job but recognises the integral aspects of being a woman; ?interpreting the role? which focuses on the choices women make in relation to their enactment of leadership; and ?having friends and foes? which focuses on how women are supported as leaders.Many describe their careers as ?accidental? in that they have not necessarily planned their career. Rather they have undertaken leadership roles because of the intrinsic value of the job and the difference they can make, criteria they apply generally when considering a job. However, once in a leadership role the women are quite deliberate regarding what work they will undertake, the ways they will undertake it, what they see as the major focus of the role and the impacts that being a woman has had on their career and their experience in a leadership role.
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