Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to explore the issues arising for women and men in senior management in New Zealand and Australian universities where life course and career trajectories intersect, and analyses how the stereotypical masculinist culture of universities can create additional problems for women. Design/methodology/approach - The data presented here comes from 47 interviews undertaken with women (27) and men (20) senior managers - a total of 26 interviews from New Zealand universities and 21 from Australian universities. "Senior Management" was defined in this study as those academic managers with university wide responsibilities, who were currently in senior management positions. Findings - Life-course issues for women aspiring to senior management roles in universities are framed around hegemonic constructions of masculinity; notions of academic careers subsuming personal life in professional roles; and structural constraints making rational choice impossible for many women. Furthermore, the excessive hours worked in such roles equate with the definition of extreme jobs. The paper concludes that the way in which women and men in senior HE endeavour to balance work and family life differs but creates issues for them both. Research limitations/implications - The structure and operation of Australian and New Zealand universities make gender diversity and management difficult to operationalise, given the competing imperatives of work and other life course trajectories. It is crucial to reframe life course and career intersections are conceptualised to ensure that diversity can be maximised. Originality/value - This paper focuses on women and men in senior management positions in New Zealand and Australian universities, but the findings can be generalised to other countries with HE systems based on the British University model. In discussing how institutional culture affects the intersection of career and life course trajectories, this paper highlights the detrimental outcomes for individuals and the resultant lack of diversity in the sector.