The female leadership gap

The female leadership gap: are you stepping up or staying put? New research has focused on why women only account for 38 per cent of all secondary headteachers. Dr Laura Guihen explains in SecEd.

Research points to a number of different reasons why this may be the case. These include family and caring responsibilities, as well as stereotypical assumptions that align “leader” with “male”.

A lot of the research on the under-representation of female headteachers focuses on the views of those who have already made the leap to headship.

The voices of women deputies, as potential aspirants to headship, rarely feature. In light of this, I conducted some research focusing exclusively on the career ambitions of female deputy headteachers; I was interested in the extent to which they saw headship as a possible career move. So, what did I find?

All of the women I talked to saw taking on a headteacher post as both a risk and an opportunity. When deciding whether or not to apply for headship, the pressures of the role and the difference you can make as a headteacher were not considered separately. They were seen as two sides of the same coin. 

Side 1: A Risk

Those who took part in this study described spending a lot of time assessing the risks involved in stepping up to headship. Many spoke about the troubling impact that Ofsted inspections, ever-moving goal-posts and tough accountability measures could have on a new headteacher: “I’ve got a mortgage to pay; I don’t want to walk into school one day and not have a job anymore,” one explained.

Side 2: An Opportunity

Those women who aspired to headship spoke about the role as a chance to exert a positive influence on students’ learning and life chances. They saw headship as being a means of bringing about positive change. 

Another attractive feature of the headteacher role was the increased decision-making power it would bring. As one participant explained: “Being a deputy is a very interesting role because you have a lot of power, but you have your hands tied quite often.” The women saw headship as an opportunity to exert a larger sphere of influence.

Read more about the interviews and what advice they would give to a female teacher who aspired towards senior leadership The female leadership gap

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

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