This study draws on data gathered during a three-year project on women and leadership undertaken in schools, universities and technical and further education colleges in Australia, and focuses specifically on the experiences of women in universities in leadership positions. Five paradoxes are identified that are shaping the work of women in these positions. It is argued that women leaders are positioned in contradictory ways. Many still retain a sense that the academy, pre-restructuring, had provided some space for women. Their academic identity was still tied to ideologies of the academy which was connected to notions of academic freedom, professional autonomy and the pursuit of knowledge. However, as feminists many were conscious that, when it came to access and equity, the ethos of 'older' universities was largely privilege and male domination, and not as egalitarian as the discourses of collegiality suggested. Furthermore, access alone did not lead to the redistribution of power. In some cases the 'old' universities were also institutions where teaching was not valued, and where there was little discussion about curriculum and pedagogy. Indeed, the women in this study were highly conscious that while there had been a broadening of representation of women in university decision-making during the 1980s, women were still largely excluded from much of the power brokering.