Perceptions of Leadership in Equity in Relation to Sexuality and Gender Identity Within an Australian Higher Education Institution Notable for its Policies in this Area.
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This qualitative study set out to explore the perceptions of leadership in an Australian higher education institution in relation to the introduction of an equity agenda related to sexuality and gender identity. The topic had professional and personal importance for me, both in my role as an equity practitioner occupying a relatively senior role in an Australian university, and as a woman who identifies as lesbian. There is a relatively small body of literature focussing upon leadership in higher education in Australia, still less about matters of equity, and a paucity of quality research related to sexuality and gender identity in this context. This study contributes to these three areas. The purpose of the research was to explore the way staff of a university involved in the initiation and implementation of a specific sexuality-equity agenda identified the leader or leaders of the agenda and perceptions of how that leadership behaviour was expressed. A secondary aspect of the research was to investigate the process by which change was implemented by these leaders in a controversial area of equity and social justice. The research used the introduction of a sexuality equity agenda as a frame through which leadership behaviours could be explored with a view to informing this area of equity practice in the higher education context. The research used a case study approach, the case study university being selected on the basis of its identifiably good practice in the area. Staff who had been closely involved with the introduction and implementation of the sexuality equity agenda were invited to participate in the research and self-selected to do so. Participants represented academic and general staff across the University at different levels of seniority, and identified variously as heterosexual, gay or lesbian. The sexuality equity agenda was implemented in a wider context of considerable public debate about issues of sexuality. The state in which the case study university was located, like many Australian States, had a government that was contemplating a liberalising revision to their anti-discrimination legislation. This somewhat volatile context was pertinent to the introduction of the agenda and the issues that arose for those involved with its introduction. Interviews in the form of 'guided conversations' were conducted with all participants and a range of relevant documentary evidence was gathered. Interviews were transcribed and data was thematically analysed using a grounded theory approach. QSR N6 and Leximancer, two software tools developed to manage large quantities of data, were used to assist the management of data in the analytic process. Analysis was undertaken from a theoretical framework informed by post-positivist theory, in particular social constructivism and critical theory, which are concerned with issues of power and social justice, the ways in which discourses interact, and how individuals make sense of their world through interpreting and constructing their realities through this multiply discursive field. The research found that the model of leadership in the case study university that operated to initiate and implement the sexuality equity agenda was one that appears different from those discussed in much of the leadership literature, which generally suggests that there is 'one' leader. In this study, participants identified three distinct leader groups. Initiating leaders (I-leaders) were the primary drivers in putting forward the proposed changes. Positional leaders (P-leaders) were identified by I-leaders on the basis of their seniority and strategic positioning in the university to promulgate the agenda, and had the necessary skills and understandings to enable them to effectively take up this role. The D-leader was the designated institutional leader with responsibility for overseeing the development of policies and programs in the social justice area. While each of the three leadership groups enacted a different leadership role in the implementation of the sexuality agenda, all nevertheless operated in a collaborative and synergistic relationship. Participants also identified a number of key characteristics which they associated with the process of enacting leadership and which were common to all three groups, particularly: risk, influence, respect, courage, and personal values. While these qualities were represented in all three leader groups, they were nevertheless manifested differently in each group in relationship to the function of that group. Findings from this case study have implications for equity practitioners in universities and students of leadership. They point to a number of potential further areas for research that would expand and build on this work. The elucidation here of key leadership patterns in the institution and their manifested characteristics stand to alert others to possibilities of similar patterns, occurrences and factors for consideration in similar contexts. It identifies possibilities and calls for reflection upon alternatives and options that might exist in those contexts.
Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Doctor of Education (EdD)
School of Cognition, Language and Special Education
Item Access Status
equity in the workplace