Arab women in higher education (HE) are long overdue a transformation: characterized professionally as having poor managerial executive experiences, trapped in low-power dead-end jobs, and lacking resources to seek professional support when dealing with different forms of discrimination. To this end, the Female Academic Role Model Empowerment, Equality and Sustainability (FREE) project was established to inspire female academics across continents in HE institutions (HEI), including three countries in the Mediterranean region: Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
Funded by EU's ERASMUS+ and Key Action 2 (KA2), FREE aims to enhance decision-making and management for female academic roles at entry, mid, and in particular senior levels by 2030, to promote a culture of gender egalitarianism and female leadership in HE, to empower female academics via HEI democratization, and encourage engagement with university community tools and services.
FREE adopts a problem-based approach, and focuses on academics, students, administrative, functional, mid and senior level managers, and executives at HEIs. After a thorough analysis of the region, a series of training workshops were designed to help the academic community recognize, identify, and tackle certain specific difficulties encountered by women within HEIs, as well as encourage the creation of specific gender studies and networks with similar interests and objectives to the FREE project. The objectives can be summed up as improving the management and operation of HE by introducing equality and sustainability centers, and developing knowledge-creation through its research networks.
Dr. Rida Elias, assistant professor in management, marketing and entrepreneurship, OSB, and a member of AUB's team working on the project, emphasized that, "females and males are colleagues in an academic setting, we are better together. Though FREE is about 'Female Academic Role Model Empowerment, Equality and Sustainability' in an academic setting, we believe the project benefits all genders. Understanding gender gaps helps us improve individual performances, which can benefit all of us."
The immediate effect can be seen when capacity increases the visibility of female academics and professionals on campus, including technical, digital, interpersonal, and executive leadership skills. This also increases the organizational power of female academics and professionals, with the ability to apply soft and hard influence tactics in the workplace without total dependence on authority or positional power, and increases the number of trained students with employability skills.
At the institutional level, FREE aims to share best practices at enhancing management systems and university services in relation to women empowerment in academia. Some universities in the region will have, as part of the FREE program, equality and sustainability centers predicted to have a positive influence on personal development and career satisfaction of women in academia. This would be coupled with an expected increase in the number of research publications on women academic leadership in seven partner country institutions across Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.
The FREE project hopes that such efforts would lead to an increase in the number of female managers and directors at senior and executive levels, and have an immediate impact on its stakeholders and its local community, notwithstanding its effects on female academics, students, professionals, managers, executives, unions, and NGOs.
"It was interesting to see how our role at AUB has changed since the start of this project. I believe the idea at the start was for AUB to be mostly on the receiving end, that is, learning from other experiences with regards to women empowerment in academia. It has since become evident that beyond just benefitting from such experiences, AUB has a lot to offer in the area of female empowerment and leadership in academia that has proven to be useful and inspiring to our regional and European partners," noted Dr. Yusuf Sidani, professor of leadership and business ethics at OSB, and one of AUB's FREE team members.
Free to AUB staff, faculty, and students, OSB will hold five FREE-certified courses in June 2020: digital skills, female empowerment in HE, gender equality in HE, soft skills, and sustainability in HE.