Women leadership success and roles in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Africa
Babalola, Olubukola Oluranti
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Background - There is a need for African women leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to arise. Women in comparison to their men counterparts do not climb up the leadership ladder rapidly due to what is termed a glass ceiling obstacle. There is therefore a need for African women in STEM to arise up to these challenges. This study aims to explore the inhibiting and enabling factors contributing to Africa women's leadership success in STEM. Methods - A qualitative approach was followed using online open-ended questions, seeking for narratives from African Women leaders on their roles and experiences of career success in STEM. Data were collected from a non-probability, purposive sample of African women leaders in STEM from West, East, North and Southern African research institutes and universities. Participants (P) occupied leadership positions such as Director, Dean, and Principal Officer in the field of STEM. Forty-two (42) women participated representing 12 African countries. Narratives were analysed through content analysis seeking for patterns and themes. Research Findings - A common thread exists in the tone and life experiences of the African women leaders in STEM. The women all shared a passion for STEM. There are diverse organisations in STEM, however the majority of participants (96%) were from higher education institutions. Scholarship, supportive organisational structure, commitment, hard work, and tenacity were all experienced as enablers of career paths process and their attained positions. The level of education also contributed to achieving leadership position. Senior professors, senior colleagues (male and female), husbands, PhD supervisors, and the personal self, stand out to be sources of inspiration for women in their STEM leadership journeys. Successful leadership in STEM is about a balance of career with family life, goal setting, problem solving, and openness to new ideas, embracing diversity, collaboration, STEM research expertise, and mentorship skills. The study found that African women leaders in STEM face enormous challenges of gender discrimination, family demands, insubordination, underrating women, conspiracy against women, lack of cooperation, socio-cultural issues, and lower salaries. The biases emanate from the view in some African societies that women should not issue instructions to men. STEM leadership transformation experiences revolve around skills, boldness, determination, and being above standards. Among many other things, the values, goals and strategies women STEM leaders manifest include the desire to grow, self-actualisation, honesty, good listening skills, sharing responsibilities, staying focused, being a role model, driving state-of-the art research, striving for the truth, upholding integrity, maintaining financial integrity, accountability and hard work. It is evident that African women experience that they are less accepted than males in STEM leadership roles in a number of African countries. The role of a successful African women leader in STEM should be able to balance career with her family and having a goal set for herself to pursue STEM as a career choice. Conclusions - Although leadership positions were found to be challenging, most women participants agreed that when one is focused and adheres to the values of honesty and integrity, achieving career success and earning respect of colleagues and subordinates becomes easier attainable. This research further highlights the leadership roles and styles of African women in their various STEM organisations with recommendations for organisational policies and future studies. Limitations and managerial implications were highlighted.