School of Social Sciences

Career Advancement of Female Academics in Higher Education Under the Microscope

Exploring the link between institutional culture and the career advancement of female academics in higher education was the focus of research conducted by Dr Aradhana Ramnund-Mansingh for her PhD in Social Sciences degree.
Dr Aradhana Ramnund-Mansingh
Dr Aradhana Ramnund-Mansingh

Ramnund-Mansingh’s case study was based on the situation at UKZN. During her studies, she faced two personal tragedies: her young son being critically hurt in an attack by a Rottweiler dog attack and her father suffering a stroke, resulting in his death. ‘My dad was my biggest supporter – the person who planted the seed of the “red gown” in my mind. For 18 months I was unable to function properly but the strength, support and inspiration of my supervisor Dr Mariam Seedat-Khan and my family, pulled me through,’ she said.

Ramnund-Mansingh’s graduation is bitter sweet as it comes three years too late for her father to attend. ‘I am comforted by the serendipitous date it is occurring – on 11 September when my dad would have turned 70, and this achievement would have been his greatest birthday gift.’ She dedicated her degree to her father.

In her research, she investigates challenges in the light of South Africa’s racial and cultural dynamics, the impact of corporatisation on higher education as an institutional culture and the dominant male structures which continue to impact negatively on the development of female academics.

‘To be able to contribute to gender research in the face of the adversity women experience globally, brought me the greatest joy. South Africa may have come a long way from its political separateness, but the research proves that women, irrespective of the political climate, continue to suffer subjugation from men, women and institutional systems,’ she said.

Ramnund-Mansingh says professional challenges experienced by female academics are numerous with many being the result of the new institutional culture. Challenges include work overload, workplace stress, the erosion of academic freedom, and work-life balance.

There was also a strong connection between the themes evidenced in the old boys’ network which included bullying in academia and the glass ceiling – which included the maternal and the glass wall.

‘The patriarchal tradition of the old boys’ network operates to impede the progress of female academics,’ she said. ‘These male dominant structures are supported by females in senior positions – referred to as Queen Bees – who contribute to severe academic bullying of female academics. While the challenges faced by female academics has been well articulated, different dynamics play a role in this study. These include the background of an unequal historic education system, higher education transformation, and the corporatisation of universities which form a key component of the institutional culture.’

As a result of the corporatisation of universities, Ramnund-Mansingh says the expectation for research outputs and performance productivity increased, thereby affecting work-life balance and increased levels of stress among female academics.

Another significant finding in her study was the execution of the recruitment policy at UKZN which sought only to employ African women in all vacant positions since 2010, without a structured plan or process of development or mentorship in place. ‘Although many generic research findings are consistent with literature on challenges faced by women in academia, the historical experiences and resultant institutional policies illustrate a South African specific experience for black women within the academic sector,’ she said.

Ramnund-Mansingh, who has presented gender specific research at various national and international conferences, is contributing a chapter towards an international book, Intersectionality, edited by Professor Cynthia Deitch of the George Washington University in the United States

Ramnund-Mansingh is passionate about gender-based research and the development of women in the workplace as well as the decolonisation of education and the impact of the historic political landscape on education in South Africa. She has spent over 20 years in a Human Resource (HR) capacity in Gauteng and managed her own consultancy providing a full range of HR services and strategic organisational support to municipalities in the Vaal Triangle.

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