Looking Good and Being Good: Women Leaders in Australian Universities

This research examines explicit and implicit ways women's leadership bodies are gendered. I interrogate the visibility of women in leadership positions and the performance of gender.

Research Findings

In this article, I argue that women in senior leadership positions in universities continue to face a number of tensions and ambiguities in their everyday working lives. Drawing on the metaphors of ‘looking good’ and ‘being good’, I highlight the gendered assumptions that senior women encounter. As senior leaders, women are simultaneously required to negotiate an inherently masculine culture yet at the same time are expected to exercise a level of femininity. Their physical presence, appearance, clothing, gestures, and behaviours are central to the bodily exercise of leadership. As the data presented illustrate, women’s leadership bodies and bodily performances reflect gendered institutional norms and assumptions about how leaders should look and act.

Key Recommendations

* Conduct unconscious bias training. This should uncover implicit bias directed related to how a person is perceived and their outer clothing.
* Understanding of organisational culture. Organisational culture change should help to address hidden and implicit messages/messaging to employers
* Organisations should commit to understanding implicit ways in which gender operates

Implementation Examples

These research findings can be applied to any context, and in any organisation.


Narrative inquiry; used NVIVO to analyse data.
Used metaphors to analyse the data