Emboldening women’s leadership in the university: WiL Certification Ceremony    

Published On: 7 March 2023|

Opening with a live and rousing version of “Celebration” performed by the Two Tone band, The Women in Leadership (WiL) Programme certification ceremony took place on 17 February 2023 hosted at Nelson Mandela University in Gqerberha. Dr Muki Moeng, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching at Nelson Mandela University, presided over the ceremony together with Acting Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education, Dr Tulsi Morar.

This was the third cohort of the Higher Education Leadership and Management’s (HELM) flagship programme, WiL, that kicked off with an inaugural meeting on 25 May 2022. Thirty-four women leaders from 20 universities participated in and completed the WiL programme, fully online, in 2022. This brings the total who participated across the sector from 2020 to 90.

Dr Muki Moeng (below right) began by commending the relationship that has been built between HELM and the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University. For her, it is a crucial partnership that creates a space for women leaders to emerge stronger and more equipped than before.

Dr Muki Moeng with a graduate who was attending the certification ceremony online.

“Traditionally, leadership implies a relationship of power – the power to guide, advise, mentor, coach, sponsor and lead others. Some of you are already doing this at differing levels. Women who take up senior leadership positions not only have to cope with and compete in a patriarchal system but also have the responsibility to change patriarchal hegemony and shift the management discourse and culture.” Dr Moeng continued by noting that “this shift should be towards a collaborative leadership culture that will support transformation. So, you have a huge task ahead of you. You have a responsibility to change how things are done”.

About WiL

WiL for academic and administrative middle managers aims to promote gender equity in leadership roles and create a pipeline for senior management and executive positions in universities.

The target group for the WiL programme are women in the positions of deans and deputy deans; heads of academic schools/departments; and directors of academic institutes/centres/ portfolios, for example, Learning & Teaching, Research, Engagement and Transformation.

Shaping a different kind of programme

WiL comprises the following interrelated components, utilising a range of online pedagogical modalities:

  1. A series of 10 three-hour sessions offered mostly online on a regular basis and over a period of four to six months. The final sessions took place in a three-day hybrid session that included shared sessions between the WiL 1 and 2 and WiL 3 cohorts. These enabled the cohorts to get together to expand and consolidate the expanding alumnae network.
  2. Peer learning groups which met for a minimum of one hour, six times during the programme.
  3. Six hour-long sessions over the duration of the programme, of individual coaching with an experienced qualified coach.
  4. Reflective and practical assignments, culminating in a final Portfolio of Learning (PoL) that had to be submitted to complete the programme and earn a short learning programme certificate, registered at and issued by Nelson Mandela University.

Building the network

The engagement between the WiL cohorts resulted in a range of further activities being proposed to bring together the ‘WiL’ women leaders over the course of the coming and future years. In terms of numbers, the first (2020) cohort had 26 ‘graduates’ from 17 universities, while the second (2021) cohort has seen a further 29 women leaders complete the programme.

For Professor Denise Zinn (right), Programme Leader, it is crucial that these cohorts remain in contact with each other. “We need to create a critical mass of women leaders in our universities and this means continually growing the talent pool of women leaders into the future.” During the ceremony, Dr Birgit Schreiber, Programme Co-facilitator, thanked this cohort “for their commitment, their enthusiasm and their wisdom — it is because of women like these that our sector will see a more gender fair and diverse higher education leadership culture.”

Dr Oliver Seale, Director at HELM was effusive in his praise of the programme. “There is an energy in this room and among the participants of the programme that is brimming with pride in what has been achieved and a determination to achieve even greater things in the future. It is a honour and privilege to be able to witness it.”

A short, 5-minute highlight package of the ceremony, compiled by NMU, is available here. In March, HELM will be sending out the next call to all 26 institutions — via their DVC: Teaching and Learning — for nominations to the next WiL programme in 2023.

Patrick Fish is HELM’s Advocacy and Communications Consultant.