“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Woolf’s treatise on the exclusion of women from education and the opportunity it brings is at the heart of her book ‘A room of one’s own’ (1929). She is very clear about the need for material support for women, all women, if women are to occupy the spaces of power, disrupt privilege and transform the spaces in which we work and how we work. The emphasis on all women is important. The example of the exceptional woman is useful only if the truth of her public and private life, her ‘ambition, accomplishments, sacrifice and suffering’ has been written down for others to learn from.
We have a real problem in advancing women in the Irish Higher Education sector - not only in terms of promotional opportunities but also in actively changing the sector so that women will want to compete to occupy managerial and other leadership positions. Gender inequalities are well documented in reports and task forces first initiated in the 1970s. Career progression programmes, gender action plans, new institutional equality officers, policies and procedures document the problems and offer a wide range of positive solutions to address inequality and lack of diversity in our Higher Education institutions. No doubt the proportion of women in leadership will improve – somewhat. It would be substantially different if the focus were on the organisation and not on the woman; we have gone from ‘not enough women’ in the pipeline, to ‘not good enough’, to ‘not ambitious enough’. Enough. The organization must change, as must all of us who inhabit those spaces - especially in education.