To many people, a job is something that just earns them a living. But two UCT students have been so committed to their work that they have made its dynamics the subject of their research.
This week Sarah Riordan will get her doctorate in organisational psychology and her colleague, Lesley Shackleton, is graduating in gender studies, based on their work as board members of the Higher Education Resource Services (HERSSA), a registered voluntary association dedicated to the advancement of women in the higher education sector.
HERS-SA, established in 2000, improves the status of women in higher education in South Africa, and was one of the motivators for the duo.
Riordan said there are fewer women than men in senior management positions at universities.
"I wanted to examine factors that had a positive impact on their career success," she said.
In her thesis, Career Psychology Factors as Antecedents of Career Success for Women Academics in South Africa, Riordan investigated how work centrality, care-giving responsibility, motivation, career anchors and self-efficacy contributed to career success. She drew her sample of 372 participants from women academics employed at 11 South African universities.
Using structural equation modelling she found that if women academics valued "autonomy" over other career anchors, this tended to lead to higher objective career success. Unexpectedly, she also found that having children and care-giving responsibilities did not impact negatively on the career success of women academics in this study.
Shackleton, on the other hand, explored the meaning of transformation and change in higher education in her dissertation, Negotiating Institutional Transformation: A case study of gender-based change in a South African university.
"People talk about transformation and a lot has changed. But deep transformation is difficult to detect," she said.
Although there are policies in place with most people keen on change, "transformation is much more difficult than what we think". Senior management is very unequal and black women, in particular, find the academic environment difficult.
"We need to do all we can to level the playing fields. We must lobby and get women as role models. We need more women role models to look up to."
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