By Sylvia Mugwagwa
On 25 August 2022, the Rhodes University community and public at large were invited to the fourth virtual public lecture in which the Registrar of Rhodes University, Professor Adéle Moodly, reflected on the advancement of women in leadership in higher education institutions. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation Professor Peter Clayton, welcomed everyone to the public lecture.
Before introducing Prof Moodly, Prof Clayton asked those in attendance to take a moment of silence for those who have suffered and passed on because of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF). After the moment of silence, he introduced Prof Moodly, emphasising that she was not only the Registrar buts also an alumna of Rhodes University. He highlighted her achievements in the 30 years she has worked and occupied various roles in the field of education and how this has led to her numerous research publications on women in leadership.
After Prof Clayton's heartfelt introduction, Prof Moodly began by stating that as the Rhodes University community, "we must speak out against gender-based violence and femicide, as well as stand up for members of the marginalised LGBTQI+ and non-binary communities". She emphasised that through the lecture series, she aimed not only to inspire a trajectory of women in leadership and encourage girl children to lead but also to add her voice to those calling for an end to gender-based violence and femicide.
On Rhodes University's role in the advancement of women in leadership roles, she outlined that the University is "setting a trend of challenging gendered roles and spaces". She noted that not only are the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic and Student Affairs and the Registrar of the University women, but there are also currently six women who are Deputy Deans of their respective faculties and departments, eight women directors, and more women have graduated from the University in the most recent years. She noted that these statistics bode well for women in the higher education sphere and shine a bright light on the future advancement of women in more positions of leadership.
Prof Moodly then asserted that as women ascend to positions of leadership, and attain positional power, they have the co-responsibility with men in leadership, to advocate for the equality of access of women to key areas of society’s socio-economic sphere and the end of GBVF. She beautifully conveyed that "it is the physical presence of women in positions of authority that sends the strongest message" against the sexist societal and patriarchal beliefs that are, in most cases, the foundation of the degradation and ill-treatment of women.
She proclaimed that having women in positions of leadership debunks patriarchal notions and beliefs and shows that women are worthy and "we are competent."
The Registrar shared the results of the research she had conducted on four women's paths and experiences towards the highest levels of leadership in Higher Education. The study was conducted by interviewing two Vice Chancellors (VCs) and two Deputy Vice Chancellors (DVCs) between 2019 to 2021. She noted the research participants were between 50-65 and had come into positions of DVCs and VCs from 2017 to date.
In sharing what was significant about the study, Prof Moodly highlighted that the women had all noted that the main contributors to their leadership roles included: a trajectory starting at a young age, inspiring mentors and role models, and personal ethical values. She also noted that the research revealed that the women had faced significant barriers and challenges on their journeys to leadership. Some of these included facing male dominance, being undermined as women, and finding a work-life balance.
However, the Registrar also noted that the women could learn from these obstacles. Facing these challenges helped them find the balance between managing people issues and making firm decisions, helped them learn to be more assertive, refined their appreciation for working hard and taught them that one could hold people accountable while still being humane and kind.
Overall, these women appreciated being in an academic space, as it presented opportunities to work with "brilliant academics" and be surrounded by "ideas and knowledge". Further, the Registrar related how they believed being around students allowed them to engage with younger people "who have a very interesting way of making you look at life in a very different way".
Prof Moodly concluded the lecture by encouraging women to "recognise that leadership is not only in the position to which you aspire but the entire journey that you are on, driven by the decisions you make". She emphasised the importance of learning, observing, reading and practising the ethical strategies of those who have achieved despite the patriarchy and its oppressive culture. "Your voice matters. You are capable," she stated, "Just as these women are."
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic and Student Affairs Professor ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela gave a vote of thanks before bringing the night to an end. She thanked Prof Moodly for showing and "encouraging us that many women got into positions of power through hard work". The DVC affirmed that "higher education has been made much richer" due to the research and work Prof Moodly has contributed toward women's leadership in the space.
The previous articles in this lecture series can be found here: