On Saturday 8th October my colleagues Jo Gill (@JoanneSGill, Assistant Headteacher Teaching & Learning) and Sue Strachan (@SusanSEnglish, Head of KS4 English) headed for Microsoft’s HQ in Reading for #WomenEd’s Second Unconference. We were co-presenting the approach we’ve taken at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form to promoting gender equality, with a particular emphasis on women into leadership. Here are my remarks. You can see the Prezi, along with the sections presented by Jo and Sue, here.
The field when I interviewed for the Headship at Churchill was 50/50 male/female. I got the job. I feel therefore that I am already on the back foot when discussing the issue of promoting women into leadership roles. The numbers are clear:
- 63% of secondary school teachers are female
- 50% of secondary school senior leaders are female
- 37% of secondary school headteachers are female
There are, however, signs that things might be improving. When Kate Chhatwal was writing in the New Statesman in 2014 about The Invisible Prejudice Holding Women Teachers Back, she was faced with a choice to take her proposals forward:
Now, which of our great education or political leaders should I pitch the idea to? The man at No 10 or the man in charge of education?
There have been significant steps forward in gender representation at the top of education, although opinion is currently quite mixed on whether this represents progress for education generally.
What to do?
As a HeForShe advocate, I am committed to improving gender equality wherever I can exert any influence at all. In doing so, I need to avoid stereotyping, patronising or “mansplaining”.
I find explanations which focus on the generic qualities of “women leaders” as though that is a homogenous group unhelpful. However, Lean In provides I think useful advice in tips for managers and how to be a workplace ally. As a Head I try to ensure that I:
1. Make sure women’s ideas are heard
The chair of SLT rotates. We haven’t ever used the Are Men Talking Too Much? counter but perhaps it’s not a bad idea…
2. Challenge the likeability penalty
This is about challenging perceptions of male and female success. Lean In asks:
When a man is successful, his peers often like him more; when a woman is successful, both men and women often like her less. Who are you more likely to support and promote, the man with high marks across the board or the woman who has equally high marks but is just not as well liked?
At every point, it’s important to challenge the likeability penalty, asking colleagues (and myself) “Would you have the same reaction if a man did the same thing?”
3. Support mentorship and coaching
We are strategic partners in the North Somerset Teaching Alliance which runs a Women into Leadership programme. Both Jo and Sue have undertaken this course and continue to promote it to other women. I have encouraged female SLT to sign up to the National College’s Women Leading in Education coaching programme, as coaches and as coachees.
4. Celebrate women’s accomplishments
It should go without saying that it’s the role of the Headteacher to celebrate accomplishments and positively reinforce success. However, as a strategy to encourage women into leadership, it’s vital. As Michelle Obama’s visits to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School show, highlighting high-profile successful women’s accomplishments can have a transformative impact: the “I did this; you could too” effect.
5. Encourage women to go for it
I don’t know whether the statistic quoted on Lean In, that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the criteria while women wait for 100%, is accurate – or even if such a generalisation is helpful. I do know that, if we are to improve gender equality, it’s my role as Headteacher to spot potential, develop it, and maximise it. My school will benefit from it and, if and when those leaders eventually leave, the wider system will benefit too.
As the Assistant Headteacher at Churchill, Jo Gill, said:
In order to move on in your career it is all about taking opportunities when they present themselves to you, but also to seek out those opportunities that you are looking for to enhance your career prospects. Ensuring that you have a mentor – or mentors – that you can trust and that you value their opinion and their advice. Having confidence in yourself about the experiences that you have gained along the way that shape the kind of leader that you want to be and demonstrate these skills and experience in job applications and when you achieve that promotion.