OPINION: New dean at the Faculty of Health is a step towards women’s representation in leadership – but more work needs to be done
Anne-Mette Hvas, the newly appointed dean at Faculty of Health, joins the previously all-male senior team of five deans at the University. Her appointment is important to celebrate for many reasons, write the columnists from Linje X.
Women in leadership roles all over the globe have proven to be effective, inspirational and highly capable. Given that only a small number of the senior leadership at Danish universities are women, we celebrate the appointment of Anne-Mette Hvas as dean of the Faculty of Health at AU. Anne-Mette Hvas is joining AU's previously all-male team of five deans. She brings a wealth of experience from both research and management to her new role.
High-level positions are attainable not just for 'Lars' and 'Peter'
Why is it important to celebrate Anne-Mette Hvas' appointment? We have written about the leaky pipeline in academia, and the issues of retention of women and career progression. Universities must ensure that women feel that they belong, and that they have role models who demonstrate that success is possible. When they look to the top of the academic ladder, it is important for students to see that high-level positions are attainable for all types of people, and not just people with names like ‘Lars’ or ‘Peter’. There is evidence that when women perceive that they can ‘fit in’ within a traditionally-male dominated occupation, they are less likely to opt for other career pathways.
Important to break down stereotypes about who it is that can lead
Anne-Mette Hvas' appointment is important, along with the recent positive spotlight on other successful female leaders during COVID-19. Visible, competent female leadership is of consequence because all too often, women and other minorities are appointed into leadership positions during crises, a phenomenon known as the ‘glass cliff’: minority groups are more likely to be elevated to a leadership position when things are going poorly. This means a greater likelihood of failure - of falling off the cliff -, and can reinforce negative perceptions of women and other minorities’ leadership capabilities. We need to see, and celebrate, effective female leadership in order to break down stereotypes about who can lead.
Continued problem with diversity at AU
An article about the new faculty leadership at Aarhus BSS, published in Omnibus in December, highlights the continued problem with diversity at the highest levels of management at AU. The Faculty of Health, with Anne-Mette’s appointment, now has a marginal edge in female representation (1/5). In defense of these all-male leadership appointments, we typically hear arguments about a lack of qualified women with management experience, and a limited recruitment base. However, the University of Copenhagen, where three of the six deans are women, and Roskilde University, where two of the four deans (and the rector) are women, show that is possible to recruit qualified women.
We congratulate Anne-Mette on her appointment, and wish her continued success in her mission to support an excellent and diverse research environment at Aarhus University.
Editorial note: Until her appointment Anne-Mette Hvas was part of Linje X.