Women in education need to empower other women

Women in education need to empower other women

From July to August in 2018, Smart Teachers surveyed 261 female teachers in Australia. Females dominate Australia's teaching workforce, yet the majority of leadership roles still go to men. For this to change we need to understand the leadership landscape from a woman's perspective.

While growing up, 64% of women surveyed said they were encouraged towards responsibility; or felt comfortable taking initiative to lead. 4% of surveyed women were currently working in executive leadership roles.

Between childhood and adulthood, what has happened to undermine the confidence of women? For teachers, our data shows its:

  • Negative treatment from school leaders
  • Negative treatment from colleagues
  • Returning from a career break

Confidence is a key player when it comes to career progression. 45% of women said that behaviours from executive leadership staff were the main cause for feeling undermined and undervalued. 83% of teachers said their scope for career progression was limited by leadership staff and colleagues at their own school. Working in an environment where people 'don't have your back' can be isolating. In situations like this it’s not surprising that there's no desire to seek new challenges.

Even more surprising is that women are holding back other women. We usually imagine 'boys club' scenarios that plot to undermine strong women. But, cronyism within 'girls clubs' exists and can be even worse:

‘At my current school, female members of the executive are not nurturing, nor do they display positive leadership qualities. They are negative and self-serving.’

‘I once had 2 female colleagues do their utmost to undermine me in a variety of ways. Very disappointing!’

From one woman to another, the most important thing that we can do in the workplace is to support each other. As if gender imbalances aren’t enough that we need to add further hurdles to the progression of women in the workplace. This does nothing to promote a positive workplace. Nor does it serve as a positive example for students.

When toxic behaviours exist at the top it inevitably filters down. Negative school cultures can be extremely damaging and hard to reverse. Pragmatic school leaders who put the concerns of their staff first will do more to keep their teachers in the job. Teachers that see the value in what they are doing are more likely to progress and expand their careers.

Four surveyed women blamed themselves for their own lack of career progression. This relates back to the issue of confidence that stems from a lack of support or feeling valued. If other teachers appear to be coping, one can feel isolated or overwhelmed if they are not able to keep up;

‘It’s difficult returning to work after having children and trying to catch up. Teaching is changing so rapidly all the time, curriculum, administration, technology and more. My confidence can feel battered. There needs to be more support for returning mothers.’

Positive perceptions of oneself in the workplace is paramount to success. The teachers we surveyed were not interested in pay rises, awards and accolades. First and foremost, women want praise and acknowledgement from school leaders and colleagues for a job well done. Second to that, they want to be selected for extra responsibility or promotion as a result.

Some women simply aren't interested in becoming school leaders - 20% of our respondents to be exact.

‘For the majority of my career I have been keen to progress and have had opportunities in middle management. Of late I have questioned whether it is worth the toll that it takes on my mental health and work-life balance.’

‘I had a leadership role at two different schools - one as a Learning Coordinator and one as a Head of Department. To be honest, the stress of the role, the balance between managing executive expectations, staff management and parents wasn't worth it. It made me lose the joy of teaching.’

‘I had been Head of Department for 7 years with no job description or clear guidance of what to do.’

The heavy workload associated with school leadership can be a strong deterrent. In schools where work-life balance isn’t valued, or educators receive little to no support, people’s willingness to take on more is reduced.

For those who do have leadership aspirations, 52% of women said they want more support. Specifically in the form of professional development that helps build confidence, negotiation skills and networking techniques.

In this survey there have also been 52% of women that state to have experienced sexism or discrimination in the workplace based on their gender. If both men and women are undermining women in the workplace it indicates a wider systemic issue. 73% of women stated that it was really important that their leadership team be equally represented by males and females. So how do we make this happen?

A great place to start changing the leadership landscape would be for women to start supporting other women. School leaders need to acknowledge and reward hard work. Colleagues need to treat each other with respect. And it would be great if there could be appropriate transition processes for people who return to teaching after a career break.

If you want to add to this discussion, we’d love to hear from you!

Please email: letschat@smartteachers.com.au