A seasoned business leader and a passionate educationist with 18 years of experience in the education sector, Dr Richa Arora is currently the COO and Head of the Institution at the University of Stirling, UAE campus. Dr Richa brings with her a rare combination of extensive business, leadership skills, academic and insight across various business segments and across continents. She holds extensive leadership experience in propelling academic growth across the continents and known for a major step changer in making Universities/academic institutions to work with business, from start-ups to large corporates and ensuring to develop tandem between academia and the corporate world, by involving students as a collaborative part of future planning and the corporates to guide and to develop the skills that employers believe they need for their workforce in future.
In conversation with Higher Education Digest, Dr Richa talks about the importance of women in leadership positions, her journey as a woman leader and many more. Her vision of nurturing future leaders to make them globally competent and socially committed has proved to be a turning point in the arena of the University of Stirling’s UAE campus growth internationally.
Do you think women in leadership roles are still a minority? What is the situation in the education space? How can we increase the number of women in leadership roles?
Yes, I totally agree with the point that women in leadership roles are still in the minority. But in today’s world, it’s not just about filling the gap based on gender but more about exercising your leadership roles despite being a male or a female. The most vital aspect of leadership is that the person should be able to influence important decisions through his/her ideas, intellectual and academic contributions without any discrimination. All these qualities are applicable even in the governance of higher education. Many women now in the education space has access to higher positions and provided the opportunities to make a significant difference in the education space. I agree that women have to break down many barriers on their way to success. One of them is that we are constantly reminded since the time of our girlhood, that we are not men. We are supposed to take care of the house, husband and children, and while on the other hand, men are constantly reminded that they have to run the house, earn money and have to reach top leadership positions. It’s important to change the outlook and the thinking process to increase the number of women in leadership roles. There are many opportunities for women in society, and it’s not very difficult to climb the ladder of success. Corporates require good leaders at the top with a stable mindset and the much-needed calmness to drive the organizations/institution.
When looking specifically at educational planning and management, why is it important that we have women in leadership positions?
In most of the world, women continue to owe several responsibilities, be at home, and the division of labour has not shifted much. However, it is widely accepted that the woman, rather than the society or the employers do the balancing act at the domestic and the professional level. This does not make much sense, given the importance of working women for economic growth, their intellectual contributions and the unique role of women in the continuation of society. Both the parents are known to nurture the child’s future. The education sector needs to have a leader with gratitude, compassion and the soft-skills part of the personality. And who better than the women can showcase these qualities. Women have the aptitude to multi-task and be logical in several situations. Women in total make a holistic development of the child’s future. Therefore, women are a perfect combination to hold top-level positions in any field, more specifically, the education sector. Evolving jobs needs are empowering women and levelling the playing field. The new service economy doesn’t rely on physical strength but skills that come easily to women, such as determination, attention to detail and measured thinking. A woman’s brain is naturally wired for long-term strategic vision and community building.
As a woman in a leadership position, what was this journey like for yourself? How were you able to overcome the different obstacles encountered?
After working for several years in different Universities and business schools across the globe and having travelled in several countries without fear have helped me to overcome the obstacles as a woman professional. Although having faced several challenges at every step of my career, it’s one thing that helped me was proving my point and standing strong on logical thinking and believing in myself. However, a country like UAE offers immense freedom and respect for women. There is no major discrimination between men and women. Both enjoy equal rights and opportunities to showcase their talent and potential. I strongly believe that there is a lot of scope for growth for women aspiring to move ahead in life. In order to be successful in life, a woman needs to strongly put forth her points across the situation. Quite often, women are not able to bring that change in their life. Especially the mothers feel guilty that they are not able to strike a balance between their personal and professional life. They are unable to provide quality time for their children and family and therefore give up on their flourishing careers so that they will be able to cater to the needs of their children. However, instead of the workplace adjusting to allow women to rise to her potential and provide an opportunity to serve the organization in the best possible way, it is the women who are expected to sort it all out.
Do you consider yourself a leader at the University of Stirling, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE? What do you feel you bring to the role that inspires others to see you as a leader?
In today’s world, organizations that are led by inclusive leadership teams make effective decisions that deliver a better result. Ignoring the gender gap, today’s women are writing a new saga of equality in the country where they are not only concerned about the education quotient of the students but also acting as a guide, friend and philosopher to young aspirants.
In the twenty-first century, the essential qualities required to lead include the ability to collaborate, connect, empathize and communicate. All these things put together can help build a more sustainable future. Being a leader, holding an important position, it’s important to identify the unique talents, understand the changing requirements and then, make sure that the voice is heard. Speak up, speak out, and contribute. At this moment, we need leaders who possess leadership knowledge, skills and analytical capability. Providing quality education is possible through quality leadership. These skills are vital to bringing effectiveness to the institution. Nonetheless, whether the leadership is exercised by men or women, it involves certain qualities and abilities, which need to be demonstrated with regard to the higher education context its generally full of challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of women leaders too!
As an experienced academic leader, what would you like to change in the current higher education system?
Our education system lacks women leadership. For ages, women prefer teaching jobs in the education system while the leadership jobs are owned by the male fraternity. Across the world, the influx of women into teaching has been key to educational expansion, allowing universal primary education and gender parity in many countries. However, this was accompanied often by men leaving teaching for higher-paying jobs and men continuing to dominate higher status secondary school positions. The feminization of the teaching force has contributed to the reduced status of the teaching force as the societal perception of “women’s work” adjusted. This is most apparent in the early primary grades followed by the higher education. It is also unfortunate that larger numbers of female teachers have not translated into higher proportions of school heads. It’s a proven fact that women can contribute a lot to society by taking up the leadership role. Women should not only have a comfortable space to facilitate their work, but there should also be an increase in the number of women in decision-making positions across the institutions. Women also need to play a critical role in the education space, such as mentoring young girls and boys into the nation-building exercise and strategic planning in the higher education system. Coming from a position where society has looked down on them to become part and parcel of leadership positions, women need to create spaces for other women or girls to explore their potential. Women in high places should push for policies that create an enabling environment for the allocation of resources towards the development of the youth. This will go a long way in ensuring that girls, boys and youth have equal opportunities and resources to achieve their aspirations. Leadership by women in the education sector is vital to increase the pace of the societal transformation at home and in the workplace. Women leaders are likely to provide an integrated view of work and family, resulting in an engaged and promising personal and professional future.
What projects or goals are you working on or leading currently?
The education of women is the most effective means for reducing the inequalities between men and women and guaranteeing the full participation of women in the socio-economic development process. We at the University of Stirling, UAE campus are focusing on the holistic development of the students besides academics and scores. We majorly focus on skill-based education in order to increase the employability quotient. In the twenty-first century workplace, a lot of importance is being given to transferable skills. Up-skilling students besides the prescribed curricula is of paramount importance in the current entrepreneurial and employment landscape. At the University of Stirling, RAK Campus, this is an ongoing process through the students’ academic progression. We also provide scholarships for girl students, purely on meritorious grounds.
Do you have any thoughts you would like to share about being a woman in the education sector or advice for other women carving a top management space?
Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen a considerable change, with women rising to leadership positions. There was a time when women leaders use to find themselves in jeopardy. Female leaders use to face a more difficult time figuring out what would be the best strategy to win the board and the employees because deviating from gender stereotypes was considered as bad for women. But now, as time has changed and we can see the strides in women’s representation in powerful roles increasing, and people across the world have started trusting women and their capabilities to lead effectively. The emergence of female leaders can become a centrifugal force for good in the world. Leadership is not gender-specific. It is a set of leadership qualities inherent or cultivated in a person who develop themselves into great leaders with a mass following. Leaders can be either men or women.
Women should just take charge of the situation and be the change-maker. The present century cannot function effectively without women’s equal participation in leadership activities. Women can create a perspective that brings to competition and collaborations for organizations. It is necessary that women leaders learn how to brand themselves by sharing their achievements and skills with others. Unless people know or notice what they are capable of, they cannot recognize the leadership qualities of a women leader.