Women Leading

Women Leading Photo: ESSA

Women Leading

Unlocking the potential of FEMALE EDUCATION leaders 

Women must have more leadership opportunities and roles to improve society for us all. Whilst this is not unique to education, academia can set the bar.

Universities and colleges are places where women can gain leadership skills and roles:​

  • Female role models in universities and colleges can inspire new generations of young people to be leaders.​

  • Mentoring and networks within universities and colleges and beyond can unlock the power of female leadership.​

  • Scholarships can develop students and educators into leaders.​

This counteracts unconscious gender biases: transforming society so that it works better for everyone. There needs to be more evidence about the role of universities and colleges in equipping women with leadership opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa. 

We are filling this evidence gap: building a coalition of universities, colleges, and organisations with expertise in women's leadership. Together we will co-create solutions based on the evidence we find through our research. These solutions will address the barriers women face and inform education policy and delivery in universities, colleges and beyond. 

What we have done so far

  • In 2019, we worked with a consortium of partners, including the African Association of Universities (AAU) and the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission, to lead a study on higher education staff and academics in Ghana. We found out that only 8% of Professors in Ghana are women. In Nigeria, the situation is similar, with only 17% of principle officers at universities being female. 

  • Across sub-Saharan Africa, 2.5% of vice-chancellors are women and 5% of CEOs are women. Women make up 43% of those who receive tertiary education but hold 28% of formal sector jobs (McKinsey Global Institute. 2019). Only 24% of academic staff in tertiary education across sub-Saharan Africa are female (UNESCO, 2019). 

  • In 2020, we led further research into the barrier's women face gaining leadership skills and roles – through desk-top research, interviews and a survey.  

  • In 2021, we launched our State of Women Leading Report which addresses the current challenges and recommendations in promoting female leadership and the pandemic response, for the tertiary education sector. We found that whilst 47% of women are not satisfied with their current leadership development, 86% of women are aspiring to develop as leaders. 32% of women also indicated the greatest barrier to women leadership across all sectors is socio-cultural expectations.

  • The fact remains that only about 6% of CEOs and 22% of executive committee members are women and about 25% of Board members are female. Undoubtedly, there is the need for more female representation in leadership roles within universities and colleges.

  • We developed the African Education Research Database which profiles African-led research, including female academics. Out of 2510 researchers in our database, only 32% are female. Our work to raise the profile of academics in Africa has a focus on ensuring women can gain funding and exposure.

  • We have also created a database called the African Scholarships Hub to support young people in sub-Saharan Africa to find scholarships and funding.

Resources & Events

Life as a Female Professor in Ghana

Professor Goski Alabi is a professor at Laweh Open University in Ghana. Professor Goski Alabi took part in our Demographics of Faculty study and also features in our Impact Report


Dubai Cares
Dubai Cares

Dubai Cares has been working towards providing children and young people in developing countries with access to quality education.

Dubai Cares partnered with ESSA in 2019, providing $1.5 million to strengthen ESSA as an organisation and accelerate its vision of high-quality education in sub-Saharan Africa that enables young people to achieve their ambitions.

Dubai Cares