International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – this day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
This year, IWD falls on 8 March, and the theme is #BeBoldForChange; which calls on society and individuals to help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world.
One organisation working hard to achieve this is #WomenEd, a grassroots movement which connects existing and aspiring leaders in education. Even though women dominate the workforce across all sectors of education, there still remains gender inequalities, particularly at senior leadership level; #WomenEd’s regional networks aim to ensure every woman in education has support in reach.
One of these networks, WomenEdLondon, has successfully secured a three-year grant from the DfE’s Women Leading in Education policy initiative, so that they can identify and nurture talented leaders by supporting participants to break down some of the barriers to progression and empowering them to secure senior roles.
At the moment, the gender pay gap in society is still very prominent, to the point where the World Economic Forum predicts the gap won’t close entirely until 2041.
Interviewing Sarah Hardy and Vivienne Porritt from WomenEdLondon, they argue that this gap is very much prevalent within education.
TheSchoolBus: “It has been reported recently that the gender pay gap won’t close until 2041. Do you think this puts women off putting themselves forward for headship?”
Vivienne: “What is fascinating in education is that, until very recently, we had a national pay system. So, that would mean in theory, there should be no gender pay gap in education. Quite a bit of the work I do in WomenEd is to highlight the fact that there is!
It is quite significant on certain levels, and I often wish I had a camera running in some sessions when I share the data on this. Most women’s faces just drop! They say “what do you mean, we are all on equal pay aren’t we?”, and then we start talking about why and women start to realise all the opportunities they have to negotiate within their pay structure.
Most women don’t even know there is a gender pay gap in education; this links to one of the strands we try and achieve within the programme, which is to create equality in schools and other educational organisations. We want to encourage organisations to think about being equitable for all their staff, who are mostly women.”
Sarah: “Many women don’t have the confidence to have a conversation about their worth and their salary. In particular, we hear of examples where women on maternity leave don’t benefit from the increments and pay rises that their male colleagues receive.”
TheSchoolBus: “Why do you think there is a statistical gap between men and women in leadership?”
Sarah: “For me, I think the main reason that this is the situation – and it’s a wider statistical gap in London and the particular areas I work in – is because the working hours and working conditions and flexibility in headship do not often coincide with women who want to have a family, women who want to study further, women who want to engage in other activities outside of teaching. There are very few opportunities out there. Some schools are doing great things, such as part-time, co-headship and flexible hours – but, we need more of that.
Add onto that, when women do return from maternity leave, or family breaks, they are often having to start again from the bottom and work their way back up, which puts a lot of women off from aspiring to headship – even though they may be ready for it! WomenEdLondon are working on case studies to show women how to ask for flexible working and the benefits this brings to schools.”
TheSchoolBus: “We interviewed someone earlier this month, who was waiting for an interview for a headship role, and she mentioned that she saw other men in the waiting room who had applied for the same role and she presumed, because she was up against men, that she wouldn’t get the role. Do you think this is a common occurrence among women?”
Viviene: “Absolutely. At WomenEd we have really started to work across three different strands, and one is to help encourage individuals with limiting voices in their head that you just described. The confidence gap for women is very significant. What we do at WomenEd is empower and support women, by giving them the tools, resources, and the role models of other women who have found their way through what can be a significant barrier.”
Sarah: “This is one of the main reasons as to why I have been involved in WomenEd, because of the ability to coach others, but also the ability to learn alongside other wonderful female leaders.”
Vivienne: “Yes, we do a lot of individual coaching and support to address these voices in everybody’s head – that women can’t do it and that the system is against them.
At WomenEd we are trying to smash through all of those barriers. We work with individual women, but we also work with the organisations who employ them, to try and get them to rethink their processes and practices – particularly around flexible working, because out of everyone who is leaving the teaching profession, 27 percent are women aged between 30 and 39, so, there is a key demographic problem about to hit.
Also, the third strand we work on, alongside helping individuals and educational organisations, is systemic. We need to address policy issues, which is why Sarah and I are delighted that WomenEdLondon won the DfE funding for one of the Women Leading in Education networks – which means we have a seat at the table! We can lean in at policy level, which we think is really important. So, it is a combination of these three strands we have got to work on, which is why it is such a complex issue.”
TheSchoolBus: “So women who sign up to the programme, will receive their own personal coach?”
Sarah: “One of the strands of the DfE’s Women Leading in Education initiative is a coaching directory. Potential coaches put themselves forward to the DfE and wait for approval. Interested women will then get in touch, through the coaching directory, with their coach. Since that was launched, I have coached four women who approached me, particularly women who work in alternative provision and special education needs or who are interested in that sector.”
TheSchoolBus: “Statistically, women tend to progress through the ranks to become headteachers, but this does not seem to be the case with male teachers. Why do you think that is?”
Sarah: “I think that is very much about the recruitment process. I think this can sometimes occur because men go into teaching with the aspiration of headship. I know with a lot of women they have the view that you go into teaching, you learn your trade, you become outstanding and then you learn to teach this to others through middle leadership, and then, once you have all that sorted, you move into senior leadership. I think that is why, where you have got outstanding schools, you will look at the middle leadership and a lot of it will be very strong women who are very good practitioners, because they have spent a lot of years building their skills in the classroom before moving onto the next stages of their leadership.”
Vivienne: “The point Sarah is making is that many more men appear to be on a fast track approach to headship, particularly in the primary sector. If you are a man in the primary sector, you are quite rare anyway, and I think that quite a few men have those greater aspirations to move to headship quickly. The statistics show you are much more likely as a male to be a headteacher in the primary sector than women because there are so few men and they are proportionally overrepresented in headship. WomenEdLondon is on a mission to empower more women to achieve the leadership roles of their choice.”
To get involved in your school-led regional network and support the leadership development of women in education, visit the Women Leading in Education: regional networks website.