As with many academics, my current career goal is to be promoted to Professor (“full professor” in USA). This usually brings with it increased managerial responsibility and it is not unexpected that I would rotate to being head of the research group or Dean of the School. This promotion process is done on merit and the fact that I am a woman is not allowed to have any explicit bearing (although clearly it does in other ways, e.g. small children limit your ability to accept the international speaking engagements needed for promotion – but that is a different story!!).
I had lunch yesterday with someone who is currently a female professor within our faculty (i.e. a university administrative unit) and head of her research group. She described how incredibly difficult it was to operate efficiently in an environment where she was required to implement the faculty and university dictates and policies, yet had no real power. In addition, at faculty and university levels of management, she feels that only those who manipulate, stab in the back and 'play the political game' are given any power and the only women who gain such power are those that are worse (or better, depending on your perspective) than the men. This confession greatly surprised me, as she has never come across as a ‘weak’ person. Indeed, we were having lunch to discuss her being my mentor (which she declined). However, she isn’t the first to tell me about this aspect of life at the top.
Having just written that, I reread the first paragraph and thought ‘am I mad?!’ However, within this university when you move up the food chain, this is what you will encounter and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon. I would rather equip myself with the necessary political skills now, rather than sink later. Clearly, this isn’t just a problem for women, but in a very male dominated faculty it just makes the problem that much worse. And, unlike my behaviour or knowledge, it isn’t something I am likely to change anytime soon!
Does anyone have any advice as to how to operate within such an environment in such a way that you can sleep at night? Are there any books out there that you would recommend? Or other resources?