The Faculty of Education celebrates the remarkable women in the faculty during Women’s Month. Prof Maureen Robinson has retired, but she filled leadership positions for many years. She was the Dean of the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University for five years and the Dean of the Faculty of Education at the Cape Peninsula University for Technology (CPUT) for ten years. She shares about those challenging years and give some advice to women in leadership positions.
Tell about the challenges in your leadership roles:
My personal challenge was to firmly assume authority in my dealings with people, as I had been told that I tend to underplay myself and come across as hesitant. I never enjoyed dealing with conflict or spending time sorting out problems related to difficult colleagues.
Advice to women in leadership positions:
First engage in some proper self-reflection about how you work with others. There are many useful training courses that help with technical support like how to manage a budget or understand policies. These are all important, but the bottom line is to be able to establish trust amongst your colleagues, and to be able to build a team of people who are motivated to give of their best. With that in place, you can learn the rest.
How did you balance work and your personal life?
I am fortunate in that I have always worked – throughout periods of studying, raising children, dealing with illness, and several family challenges. So, finding ways to balance work and personal life just seems a normal part of life. Even though at times the demands of the two can collide, I would not want to do the one without the other.
Who inspired you to take on a leadership position?
Interestingly, it was not another leader who inspired me but rather a close friend. When I had doubts about whether I should make myself available as Dean at CPUT, I told her: “I don’t know if I can be a Dean.” Her short and sharp answer was: “Women always think they can’t do things.” That struck me as very true. We often undermine ourselves, even when the evidence shows that there is no reason why we should do so, or that others are doing a job we can’t do. I have used that advice often since then, with female colleagues who expressed unfounded doubts about their own abilities.
Did you aim for a leadership position when you started your career?
Definitely not. I am still astonished that this happened. And even though I have now retired, I am still trying to figure out my intended career path.
- Author: Elbie Els