Gendered language is a barrier to women in school leadership

When faced with unspoken bias and repeated knockbacks in applications, many of our brightest and best give up, writes Gwen Byrom in Tes.

As a leader in girls’ schools, I am also particularly interested in how we develop the next generation of women and prepare them not only to take their place in society but also to lead that society. I’m also interested in how language is used to support – or damage – an individual or cause. I think that much of this use of language plays into a particular bugbear of mine: the stereotype of a leader.

Here, the language used to describe behaviours can, and does, I believe, have a detrimental effect on women when they are in the process of thinking themselves into whether they could succeed in a particular role.

An important part of our job is in helping others to see that words such as “drive” and “analytical” do apply to them and that no, they don’t have to spring into a role fully-formed. Women Ed’s 10% braver campaign was an inspired idea to support this type of work, because who can argue with being just a little bit braver, putting yourself out there just tad more, in order to progress? Looking at the comments on Twitter, we can see that this grassroots support is working.

Consider a panel interview where the applicant is challenged on a point of pedagogy or an aspect of their educational history that doesn’t quite meet requirements. Which applicant defends their point robustly, and which one is judged defensive? What about the candidate who has progressed up the career ladder with regular school moves, which led to more responsibility? Which one is judged ambitious, and who is the careerist? 

I suspect it wouldn’t take too many guesses for you to work out which feedback has been given to me in the past. I have had my ability to deal with “tricky boys” questioned (I have three sons and have worked in all-boys’ schools) and asked countless times about childcare arrangements and what my partner does for a living and/or thinks about my application. I know many other women who can tell similar – or far worse – tales of the panel interview.

Read the full article Gendered language is a barrier to women in school leadership

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Employment, Infant, Leadership, Primary and Secondary.


  1. As girls do much better than boys at GCSE,
    55% of uni students are female and
    women entrants dominate all fields of employment except technology, engineering and maths
    3 out of 4 suicides are men
    etc etc
    perhaps it is time to stop focussing on the girls and start asking why boys are failing.

    Check out

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