Not tokens: Reaching a "critical mass" of senior women managers

Colleen Chesterman*, Anne Ross-Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to outline the findings of a research project involving five Australian universities with over 30 per cent of their senior management positions filled by women. It explores the factors that enabled this to happen and also discusses the responses of the universities to the report. Design/methodology/approach - The research was essentially qualitative, based on 81 interviews, 50 with senior women and 31 with senior men. All those interviewed were in senior positions, from Vice-Chancellor down to Dean, Director or equivalent. 46 (24 men and 22 women) were academics; 35 (28 women and seven men) were in administrative, support or general staff positions. Findings - Interviewees identified as crucial for the appointment of women having a critical mass of other women in senior positions, opportunities to network, encouragement and support from organisational leaders, friendly and collegial environments and strong organisational commitment to values. Practical implications - The paper describes the actions currently being taken by the five universities to build on the research findings and to ensure that their relative success in promoting women is maintained and improved. It considers whether it is possible to transform hierarchical and traditional cultures in order to establish networks of support and to raise questions about gendered assumptions about capacity and ambition. Originality/value - The paper presents information which draws on the findings of a large scale empirical research project on how women reach senior positions in universities. It also discusses how these findings have been turned into organisational action to improve the position of women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-552
Number of pages13
JournalEmployee Relations
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Academic staff
  • Australia
  • Gender
  • Promotion
  • Recruitment
  • Women executives


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