SU International staff remain popular as speakers at both national and international forums that promote scholarship and collaboration. Most recently, Prof Sarah Howie, director of the Africa Centre for Scholarship, presented a plenary lecture at the three-day HERS-SA Academy in Cape Town in March 2021.
HERS-SA is a non-profit organisation that initially started with funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation in 2002, but is now self-sustaining. It focuses on the advancement and leadership development of women in the higher education sector, and works with institutions of higher learning to promote their gender equity agendas.
In following a hybrid model to comply with COVID-19 regulations, some of the 80 female-only participants attended in person, while the rest tuned in online from across the country. Approximately half were from the research and academic environment, and the other half from the higher education support services sector.
Prof Howie's lecture focused on research and leadership, and reflected on the qualities of scholars and the characteristics of effective leaders. She emphasised that leadership developed in different ways and might be informed by (often serendipitous) informal experiences prior to or alongside formal opportunities in the workplace. In highlighting the strength of female leadership in times of crisis, she cited examples of international women leaders' actions during the pandemic, and how these compared to those of some of their male counterparts.
The presentation emphasised that many of the characteristics of good leaders and of scholars overlapped, including courage, persistence, integrity and creativity. With regard to courageous leadership in particular, Prof Howie stressed the importance of giving team members the credit they deserve, and of shielding one's team when under fire. This, she said, was epitomised by the late President Nelson Mandela, who said: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership."
Other speakers at the event included the vice-chancellor of the University of Zululand, and the deputy vice-chancellor of Rhodes University.
HERS-SA is a sister organisation of HERS Mid-America in the United States. To date, HERS-SA alumnae total over 1 000 women, many of whom now hold senior leadership positions in higher education, government and at research agencies.