Female leadership in international schools (May, 2020)
This week’s EDDi is themed. The focus is female leadership in international schools.
To paraphrase Chase and Martin (digest of their paper below), we can’t believe female representation in school leadership is still an issue. But it is.
‘Those who manage and govern schools must become aware that they are not, as most of them claim to be, fully “equal opportunities employers” ….
Some practical advice (for ambitious women)
Why white, Anglo-Saxon males dominate education leadership
I can’t believe I’m still protesting: women in leadership
A case for hope in South Africa
Masculinities in management: hidden, invisible and persistent
Please share liberally with colleagues. Male leaders especially. Female leaders might find the articles most interesting, but it is men who need to read - and take on board - the messages.
For those interested, you can access a FREE book chapter on the same theme HERE.
SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE (FOR AMBITIOUS WOMEN)
Articles written and curated by Dr Stephen Whitehead
As the academic digests below reveal, gender bias in education this is not a recent problem.
Indeed, back in 1999, Lesley Thom published research which answered the question ‘why women tend not to apply for senior positions in secondary education’ *. Her conclusion was:
‘Those who manage and govern schools must become aware that they are not, as most of them claim to be, fully “equal opportunities employers” – and, having recognized this, they must make and follow conscious strategies to ensure women are provided with opportunities to develop professionally, opportunities which are, in one form or another, currently given to men.’ (p. 64)
Thom’s concern was recently taken up by Professor Deborah Eyre, Education Director at Nord Anglia Education, one of the leading organisations in international schooling. Professor Eyre recognised that while NAE has a good gender split at teacher level, ‘at senior levels it is less rosy, especially at Principal level. But the female principals we have are among our very best. So what is happening?’
As Eyre and others have noticed, the fact that women are not dominating international education leadership is strange because females are now dominating education. They are outperforming males from Primary through to PhD level, and have been for some years.
Women are now at least matching men at entry into the workplace.
“The international schools question is just a magnified version of a wider problem in the education system. Possibilities and aspirations for women have both increased, but the workplace hasn’t really adapted.”
What this tells us is that for at least thirty years, and very likely much longer, women have been deterred from applying for senior leadership positions in schools, and that problem is now a major one for international schools. With Generation Y now coming through into the workplace, to be shortly followed by Gen. Z, things must change and fast. Because, as Prof. Eyre and most sociologists now recognise, these younger generations have ‘been bred for success and have had their aspirations raised, consequently, they are ‘not going to accept the status quo.’
And this is the message which EDDi, Prof Eyre and all those concerned with this issue are giving to international schools, indeed all educational organisations; begin to change now before events overwhelm you. Because you cannot continue to ignore the highly competent women in your midst and expect to thrive as a 21st century educational organisation.
In 2014, Ruth Sanderson (now Senior VP and Head of Secondary at Doha College) undertook research for her Keele University MBA Edi, titled; ‘The gendered international school: barriers to women managers’ progression’. *
Her study was designed to not only examine the barriers to women’s promotion in international schools, but also to identify ways in which women can overcome those barriers. Her findings arose from qualitative research in five international schools in Seoul, South Korea.
We now take the key findings from Ruth’s research and present it as at least a starting point, and very likely much more, for any international education organisation determined to overcome decades of inbred, deeply-rooted, often institutionalised gender discrimination in its culture and practices.
The research reveals three main areas which need to be addressed by any school or organisation seriously interested in removing barriers to women’s promotion to leadership; culture, organisational practice, individual practice. However, to assume that men will make the changes necessary and open the doors to women coming into leadership positions is simply naïve. Most men managers won’t help women. Indeed, as the women participants in this research all agreed:
“The biggest barrier is male Senior Administrators. The attitudes and practices of this layer of management need to be onboard for change if change is to happen without conflict.”
The male network, or boys own club, works in a very effective way across international schooling. Few men will step in to give women a step up the ladder. If change is to come about it can only come from women bringing it about.
First and foremost, as the participants in Ruth’s study noted, developing self-confidence is a must for women aspiring to leadership.
“There’s a lot to be learned from people who are much more confident about [applying for leadership] and don’t question themselves, and don’t question their ability. You have to sell yourself, you walk in the room, and you convince people, then they’re going to think, ‘Well, of course they can do this job.’
“I’ve sought counselling to build my self-esteem. I have felt crushed. I have not felt valued. I have been bullied, emotionally, and had a hard time recognising it. I blamed myself.
“I think it is important to have a really good sense of who you are and what you have to offer regardless of ethnicity or culture, or gender. It has to do with your own self-confidence and I would say, seek help for that, and build yourself up.’
“Mentoring can be so important. I’ve not had much mentoring at all and it’s been really hard. Women have got to help each other. We’ve got to find sparks with each other too. Help each other build strengths.’”
So, apart from acquiring the necessary self-confidence to apply, what more practical actions can women take who aspire to school senior leadership positions?
Earn the academic qualifications required for the post. Don’t go in under-qualified. Build up your CV and do as much PD as you reasonably can manage.
Display good communication skills to prove the ability to be a team-player, a good negotiator and to be able to work out how people ‘tick’.
Be transparent about family circumstances to show that you can be both a family person and a professional.
Recognise and accept that relationships are going to change; and the accompanying pain may have to be endured during these changes.
Envision yourself as part of the SMT; if you cannot see yourself doing this role, the men managers won’t see it either.
Acknowledge, tolerate and overcome the unfairness about the fact that men do not need to think about the same issues when seeking leadership. Do not allow the real or perceived unfairness to become a canker in your mind.
Accept that ‘playing the game’ is a reality and that it can be played whilst maintaining integrity. There is a meta-level of politics that is constantly present for women; they have to analyse what is going on instead of just acting on what they think or feel.
Don’t be afraid to promote your achievements. Don’t allow male colleagues, or male bosses, to take credit for what you’ve achieved.
Don’t be physically marginalised or silenced in meetings. Be prepared to make your point strongly and assertively, but in a fair and reasonable manner.
Being political means having allies, both women and men. Build up your own professional network both in the school and outside it.
Don’t compromise your femininity for ambition. It is not necessary. You can be a female woman with all the attributes that brings, and be an assertive, competitive and determined leader and manager. One does not automatically negate the other. In other words, don’t model yourself on, or be a clone of any male leader. You can be better than that.
Don’t be an apologist for bad male behaviour. Too often, women are. Recognise discrimination when it happens to you and challenge it. At the very least you will act as a positive role model for other females.
Finally, female solidarity. Women need other women.
Few male colleagues are going to be your allies in your pursuit of leadership. But women can be. And when you do finally reach that high level of leadership, be prepared to mentor younger women coming up.
They will need it, just like you did.
Want more? You can access a FREE book chapter on the same theme HERE.
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WHITE, ANGLO-SAXON MALES DOMINATE INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION LEADERSHIP
Between 2015 and 2019, I held the position of non-executive director for a company that operated five schools, (Brunei/Malaysia), including an international school. What was especially interesting about the job was 1) I was the only Westerner employed in the whole operation and 2) 90% of the senior positions were held by women*, including the five principalships and the post of CEO.
To my knowledge, no other international educational company comes close to that ratio of women in senior leadership, nor has so few Westerners on its Board of Directors.
By way of comparison, Nord Anglia, Cognita, Harrow International Schools, Dulwich International Colleges, and Wellington International Schools, have a total of 67 Directorship-level positions, 27 of which are currently held by women (based on respective website info).
Which, as we will see below, is around the global average.
But when it comes to the big-name international school Principalship positions, Harrow, Dulwich, Westminster, Marlborough, Epsom, and Wellington International School groups between them employ just three women principals across a total of 17 schools.
It is not possible to get the gender-leadership data for Cognita, GEMS or Nord Anglia but very likely it will be similar. **
As for BAME representation, there isn’t any. Finding a black or brown face among the WASP males who dominate international education is like searching for a pearl oyster in the River Mersey.
Numerically, women have long dominated the global teaching profession. Indeed, back in 1989 in the UK, they numbered 243,000 as against 147,000 male colleagues. Today, both in the UK and USA over 75% of teachers are women and the number is rising. In Australia, the number of male teachers has declined so much over the past fifty years that they are now considered an ‘endangered species’.
But men are not an endangered species when it comes to school leadership.
While the data varies from country to country, globally it appears that no more than 35% of women occupy secondary school Headships, rising to 75% for primary school Headships. Across OECD countries, 68% of lower secondary teachers are women but 55% of these schools are headed my men. As for Japan and South Korea, their gender ratio is frankly a disgrace; 94% of lower secondary heads in Japan are men, 87% in South Korea.
But the Brits have nothing to shout about, for when we look at UK Higher Education only 20% of UK universities are headed by a woman. While even in UK primary schools where women constitute 85% of all teachers, they occupy just 73% of headteacher positions.
One organisation that does monitor women in international school headships is the Academy for International School Heads, who report that over the past 12 years the percentage of women heads of international schools has increased from 27% to 33%. An increase, yes, but hardly earth shattering. And barely above the global average of 29% for women in all senior leadership positions, and this is the highest figure ever recorded.
From this data, the current situation regards the gendered and racial constitution of international school leadership simply mirrors a long-standing global reality. Which is that your best chance of heading a leading international school, certainly in East or South East Asia, is to ensure you have male genitalia, a white skin, and speak BBC English.
And if that strikes you as unfair, then conduct your own study; simply attend any annual get-together held by COBIS, FOBISIA or CIS.
The realisation that education leadership tends to be a ‘boy’s own club’ should not surprise you. It certainly doesn’t surprise me as I made that very point in a Sociological Review article I co-wrote and had published back in 1998. Over 30 years ago.
It is therefore, more than a little dispiriting to know that international schooling remains stuck in some 1990s time-warp, at least regards its gender and racial constitution. Because elsewhere around the world, things have moved on.
At the simple level of employment ratio, women are now overtaking men. In December 2019, and for the first time ever, the percentage of US women in employment went above 50% of the total workforce. In the UK, women now hold a third of all board roles at FTSE 100 firms, up from 12% ten years ago. Travel to South East Asia and you’ll find even more impressive figures of women in leadership positions: The Philippines is consistently the stand-out country for its number of female executives, now at 43%. Vietnam is rising fast, now second at 36%. But in terms of senior management positions held by women, China wins hands down – now above 50%.
That said, any pleasure at signs of progress gets reined in pretty fast when you learn there are fewer women in leadership positions in the USA than there are men named John.
What especially annoys me about the tardy rate of gender and racial progress in international school leadership is that it does not represent the age we live in. Nor is it representative of these schools’ self-declared mission statements and visions.
Women are now dominating higher education. Even in countries with a questionable gender rights record, (e.g. Malaysia, Brunei, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India) women are more likely to enrol at university, more likely to graduate, and more likely to get a higher-level degree than men. In the USA, men are now the ‘new college minority’.
Based on anecdotal evidence alone (no global data available) females are also dominating international school enrolments, which makes perfect sense given they are dominating university enrolments.
If the leaders of both the London Fire Brigade and the London Metropolitan Police can be female, then it seems strange that women are not dominating international educational leadership.
The days of macho, ‘my way or the highway’ style of masculine leadership are over. 21st century school leaders need emotional intelligence more than the ability to dominate a meeting. Another reason for not allowing males to dominate school management.
Any international school that puts an emphasis on being a diverse, multicultural learning community, encouraging its students towards ‘global citizenship’, must ensure its own leaders represent that diversity.
Older millennials and boomers may currently control the world of international education, but it is Generation Z that is going to change it. And Gen Z women especially are not going to hang around waiting for the men to move on. If you want to see the future, then you need to understand something about the Generation Z students currently in your schools, but soon expecting to be your boss.
I grew up in a world where male privilege, underscored by male entitlement, was rarely if ever questioned. It was a given, fundamental apparent to the ‘smooth running of society’ and the maintenance of a functioning social order.
One doesn’t need to look too hard to see that same sense of (white) male privilege and entitlement still flourishing in the world of international schools. Yes, there are some notable exceptions, I know of them and so do you. But overall, too many of these schools are culturally more representative of the last century, not the current one.
I don’t doubt it will change in time. Unfortunately, it needs to change quicker than that.
*All the women principals were mothers, one a single mother, three had school-age children. Six different (Asian) nationalities were represented across the five schools and administration positions. My British identity being the seventh.
**If you are an executive from any international education operation and wish to provide us with your actual gender and racial principalship constitution, then EDDi will publish it. NLCS international (Singapore and Jeju) is the only leading IS operator with a male-female principalship ratio of 50%.
By Dr Stephen Whitehead (more of Stephen’s work on gender HERE)
I CAN’T BELIEVE I AM STILL PROTESTING: CHOPPY WATERS FOR WOMEN IN EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP
Authors: Elizabeth Chase & Jennifer L. Martin (University of Illinois, USA)
The quest for gender justice and equal rights didn’t start with #metoo, for from it.
Women represent less than 50% of school leaders, an indictment of the masculinist culture that prevails across much of education.
Leadership invariably exposes women to gendered and racialized microaggressions
Women are judged on all aspects of their identity, but always in relationship to the dominant (white) male gaze.
There are ways forward, but there is no way forward unless men are challenged to change their attitudes, assumptions, behaviours.
Simone de Beauvoir wrote the epitomic feminist work, ‘The Second Sex’ nearly 70 years ago. The English philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft, was advocating women’s rights in both the public and private spheres some 150 years before that.
Yet given the current media spotlight on the MeToo Movement, the Harvey Weinstein case, and the ‘crisis in masculinity’, one could be forgiven for imagining that the quest for gender justice and equal rights is a 21st century phenomenon.
If that is what you think then you’d be very wrong.
Women have been fighting against gender inequalities for much of history. And it continues.
Abortion rights, equal-pay, domestic violence, rape-culture, sex-trafficking, gender stereotyping, and the continuing under-representation of women in leadership, are just a few of the issues which spur millions of women to protest loudly and continually.
The incredulity which women (and some men) rightly feel at having to continually battle against the intransigence of male patriarchy at worst, and male indifference at best, is sobering. As the authors of this article put it:
‘While the national women’s protest [Women’s March, 21 January, 2017] and the attention it brought to issues of gender and reproductive justice are not the main focus of this article, we root the telling of our research in one of the protest signs that emerged as a form of aesthetic resistance. One particular sign called attention to the incredulity at having to still, in 2017, resist government policies that threaten to separate women from control over their bodies. Women, many of whom have been activists for decades, used their signs to declare: ‘I still can’t believe I’m protesting this shit!’ (p. 1-2)
As is evidenced in this edition of EDDi’s ‘opinion piece’, the fact that women are not even close to 50% representation in international educational leadership is an indictment of the masculinist culture that prevails across for-profit education. But as the authors of this article explain, it is not simply about achieving gender parity; the roots of resistance to women in leadership run deep.
‘We use our data to explore and understand the forms of discrimination and stereotyping that the participants in our study faced in their day-to-day work as educational leaders. The analyses of racism, sexism, men’s in-group favouritism, and an endless series of pitfalls, illustrate how the issues facing female educational leaders today have not evolved much in the past few decades.’ (p.2)
For those women educational leaders who are marginalised by virtue of being Women of Color, then the overt and covert forms of discrimination that affect their decision-making and authority are multiplied many times over. The fact that there are so few Women of Color (and Men of Color) in international school leadership can only tell one story: institutionalised racism is alive and kicking.
In order to examine the complex interplay between diverse identities and positions, the authors draw on the feminist theory of intersectionality.
‘Material feminists posit that in addition to the discursive focus of poststructuralism, we must account for the ‘myriad intra-actions between phenomena that are material, discursive, human, more-than-human, corporeal, and technological’. In particular, [we must] consider how a multitude of subjectivities – whether as Women of Color, as white women in positions of relative privilege, as educators, mothers, sisters, partners and beyond – are connected to other places and spaces in our professional and personal lives’ (p.6)
‘We thus choose to ground this research in feminist critical theory and intersectional perspectives, which illustrate how the diverse foci of race, class, gender, sexuality, and other identity markers impact the lives of women holding or attempting to garner positions of leadership within K-12 education.’ (p. 5)
14 women were ultimately selected to participate in this interview-based qualitative study, which was guided by a single research question: What are the experiences of women in positions of leadership in K-12 US educational settings? The women were of White, African American, Latino, Black race or ethnicity. They were aged 34 to 69.
Key Themes from the Study
1. Building consensus: The participants said their leadership styles were aimed at ‘bringing people to the table’, that is, collaborative, inclusive and concerned with building consensus. However, they also spoke of ‘being compelled to right the wrongs that they were witnessing in male and white dominated leadership positions where team building was not a priority’. But in order to build consensus where previously there had been little or none, they invariably found themselves fighting against the ‘this is the way it has always been done’ philosophy of leadership.
2. Taking more heat: This refers to women in positions of leadership being forced to deal with more contentious situations or being required to handle controversial issues because a male counterpart fails to do so. Participants felt that men leaders often backed off and expected the woman leader to step in and deal with crisis situations, even though the men tended to take credit for any resolution. This dumping of the emotional labour work on the women leaders also left the women feeling alone in times of crisis.
3. Intersectional microaggressions: The school leadership position invariably exposed the women leaders to gendered and racialized microaggressions; ‘subtle slights, intentional nor not, including statements, actions, minimizations, and invalidations, serving to trivialise one’s gendered, racialised, or other identity-based experiences by those who do not share those same experiences, thus denying their significance.’ One participant explained how male colleagues would be addressed by their formal title, while the women colleagues, including herself, were addressed by their first names. Language was directly used to attack the women, with terms such ‘let me speak to the Black Principal’ and being called a ‘Black Bitch’, not uncommon.
4. Leadership intra-actions: Identity is not neutral, especially not when it is played out within the intersectionalities of gender, race and class, and in what persists as a white, male dominated organisational environment. Consequently, the women leaders were constantly having to navigate, and experience often quite emotionally, the mix of material, human, discursive and cultural elements of leadership. This often produced in them a sense of the ‘other’, wherein they were judged on all aspects of their identity, but always in relationship to the dominant (white) male gaze. Reading these women leaders’ accounts ‘through the lens of intra-action allows us to look for the mutual constitution of agency that is simultaneously materially and discursively produced.’
It is all too easy for white male leaders to dismiss the accounts, experiences, narratives and indeed protestations, of women who are leaders or aspire to be, as unreasonable, unrepresentative, unimportant.
Why? Because they don’t experience them personally.
Yet that is precisely the reason such accounts are so important - they expose the racialised and gendered culture at the heart of (educational) leadership. That we are still having to expose and address discrimination in educational organisations, despite decades of feminist progress and action, raises the question: ‘how is it possible that we are still discovering and protesting the same concerns?’
The reality is, any woman, of whatever race or ethnicity, who today enters international educational leadership in an organisation where a (white) masculinist culture has historically dominated, will be facing the same issues and discriminations as participants in this study.
As we discuss in this edition of EDDi, there are ways forward, but for sure there is no way forward unless men leaders are challenged and helped to change their attitudes, assumptions, behaviours.
Elizabeth Chase & Jennifer L. Martin (2019) I can’t believe I’m still protesting: choppy waters for women in educational leadership, International Journal of Leadership in Education
WOMEN IN EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP: THE CASE OF HOPE HIGH SCHOOL IN THE EASTERN CAPE PROVINCE, SOUTH AFRICA
Author: Nolutho Diko
A case study exploring how a South African High School responded to the legislative requirement to open educational leadership to women.
The [male] Principal chose to support and encourage the (male dominated) status quo; gender equality was interpreted as token inclusion of women in [soft] leadership positions
Bringing in women to senior leadership positions in education is only the first step.
The big challenge is changing powerful men’s attitudes.
One of the vital, if salutary lessons that feminists have had to learn over the past century is that gender justice is not guaranteed in law.
It may well be stated in law, not least as antidiscrimination legislation intended to protect the rights of women, but rarely are such laws translated into practice, at least totally. This is not to say that such legislation is useless, only that it inevitably meets head-on a much deeper and corrosive problem: masculinist culture.
In this edition of EDDi we will look at masculinist organisational culture in more depth, but for this article we see its presence in a case study of a high school in South Africa.
Perhaps of all developing countries, South Africa has embraced democracy the most over the past quarter century. From being an apartheid stronghold for white supremacists, the Republic of South Africa is now recognised as one of the most stable democratic countries on the African continent, and in the top 50 global democratic index.
It is also one of the richest countries in Africa, with a GDP per capita of $13,403.
Yet despite its social and economic progress, inequality is rampant. The dominant culture is heavily patriarchal and gender-based violence is ubiquitous. At the same time, as this article discusses, South African governments have made great efforts to eradicate gender inequality, to the extent that SA now ranks fourth out of 87 countries covered by the OECD’s Gender Index. For example, women currently make up 45% of the representatives in the Parliament of SA.
‘In South Africa gender equality is pursued through the constitution, the establishment of a Commission on Gender Equality, the gender policy framework and the various strategies and policies in particular departments, and the establishment of the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities’. (p. 826)
Education is rightly seen in SA as a key tool in changing discriminatory gender attitudes and achieving gender justice. Indeed, the 1997 Gender Equity Task Team report ‘charted the need for intervention in gender and educational management and the training of men and women in administration.’
‘This section was of great value not just because education reform depends largely on good leadership, but also because South African educational leadership has a record of resisting change and favouring males.’ (p.826)
The question then arises, what if any progress is being made? The legislation is in place. The political will appears robust. There are a significant and growing number of women politicians ready to support action and policies on gender justice. Education and especially its leadership are rightly recognised as the key variables in bringing about social advancement and equity and related training has been introduced. One should therefore expect all these factors to coalesce into effective and powerful shift in SA culture towards national gender equality.
‘This [research] scenario is placed against the background of the country’s transformative constitutional mandate as well as national performance of gender equality since 1994. According to the National Gender Policy Framework, the main objectives of the current government including ‘engendering all institutions of the state, increasing the number of women occupying senior positions in government and transforming gender relations’. (p.829)
The aim of this qualitative case study (interviews, observations, focus groups) was to explore and analyse how a South African High School responds to the legislative requirement to open educational leadership to women, and to ensure positive change in the underlying gender culture.
‘The school examined in this study is a high-performing rural coeducational high school. The school is an interesting case for studying the implementation of gender equality policy because it is perceived to be one of the best in the region [and is] always one of the top-performing schools in terms of matriculation results.’ (p. 829)
In effect, the study uses this case study of a single SA High School as a template for assessing gender equity progress in SA education (leadership) and relatedly, in SA as a country.
1. The school was a ‘firm observer’ of the South African Schools Act of 1996, and clearly the school leadership understood its duties in this regard. When the study participants were asked to explain the mission and vision of the school all were clear that it is teaching and learning.
2. The most powerful operations within the school were the five leadership and management subcommittees: sport, entertainment, disciplinary, catering and cleaning. Considerable power and control were attached to positions on these subcommittees, and teachers holding them could control resources, punishments and even information.
3. Males headed the sport, entertainment and disciplinary subcommittees. Females were ‘entrusted with heading the catering and cleaning committees.’ These latter two committees had little power attached to them nor any budgetary or other type of strategic management.
4. The Professional Development offered to the women teachers on the catering and cleaning committees ‘only allowed the kind of training that teaches women how to be good mothers, as they entailed food preparation, cleaning, laundering and caring in the school’.
5. While the school appeared to be observing gender equality, by having a school management team consisting of three women and two men, the men ‘were still able to continue to entrench their authority in the school and delegate minor roles to females’. This showed that numbers are not a reliable indicator or gender equality.
6. By ensuring that a few men dominated and controlled the key operations of the school, effectively marginalising are larger number of female teachers and leaders, the school ‘was continuing to maintain [gender] power relations of the past’.
7. The author of the study ‘never observed a case where the male teachers assigned with management responsibilities were publicly overruled by the principal or undermined by other staff member. However, when it came to the case of females n leadership positions, this practice was common.’
8. The male teachers with management responsibility consolidated their control and subtly ignored the voices of women. Thus, the way the management and leadership operated effectively marginalised women at all levels.
9. Though officially the school senior management team is numerically dominated by women, in practice ‘it is the males who have the necessary connections’.
10. The gender bias in the school is deeply rooted in male attitudes and this gets replicated as discriminatory practice in the school leadership system. While this process is at times subtle, often it is explicit. In effect, while the school structure has adapted to the requirements of new, gender-equity legislation, the gendered thinking and stereotyping remains ‘based on the social and cultural construction of gender roles.’
One might consider different reasons for this ongoing gender discrimination in school leadership, but what cannot be ignored is the fact that the male school leaders are now aware of their duties and responsibilities to ensure gender equity not only in theory but in practice. The study therefore finds they are ‘subtly defiant toward bringing about gender equality in the school.’
‘For pragmatic purposes the [male] principal chose to support and encourage the status quo, and gender equality was interpreted as token inclusion of women in [soft] leadership positions. This selective implementation of gender equality is a way of defending male authority and perpetuating past practices, which is not resonant with the spirit of gender equality or the vision of human rights that extends equal rights to all men and women.’ (p. 832)
As this special EDDi edition reveals, bringing in women to senior leadership positions in education is but the first step. The big challenge is changing powerful men’s attitudes.
Diko, N. (2014). Women in educational leadership: The case of Hope High School in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 42(6), 825–834.
MASCULINITIES IN MANAGEMENT: HIDDEN, INVISIBLE AND PERSISTENT
Author: Stephen M. Whitehead
This whole article is worth your time; it is powerful and important. We offer one simple takeaway. If you are a female, ask the males in your organisation this question. If you are male, ask it of yourself:
‘How do you think your experiences as a manager and leader have been affected by you being a man?’
The question deserves some hard thought.
At time of writing two gender-significant events have occurred.
Firstly, Elizabeth Warren, candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 US Presidential election, has dropped out the race. There is now no chance of a woman attaining the US Presidency at least until the end of 2024.
Secondly, drawing on research across 75 countries, the 2020 gender social norm index revealed that ‘close to 90% of men and women hold some sort of bias against women, providing new clues to the barriers that women face in achieving equality’. Indeed, according to this study, over 40% of people feel men make better business leaders than women and ‘that men have more right to a job when jobs are scarce’.
These two signal events, Warren and the GSCNI study, confirm that we should not be surprised that women remain marginalised in (international) education leadership. There is an overwhelming global narrative against women in leadership in all sectors. Indeed, a large percentage of women themselves contribute to that narrative.
It is as if, no matter how bad men leaders might be they get a pass, while women leaders receive intense critical scrutiny.
Both men and women are culpable here.
Warren’s chief strategist, Joe Rospars, stated the problem plainly:
‘No amount of sympathy, empathy or study can give me a real sense of the double standards women face every single day.’
Warren spoke for a lot of women when asked what gender played in her campaign: She replied; “that is the trap question for women. If you say, yeah there was sexism in this race, everyone says, whiner, but if you say there was no sexism about a bazillion women think, what planet do you live on?”
When we look closely at what is going on here we can see that the gender justice and equality problem is not simply about numbers, percentages and ratios. Even when highly capable women rise to positions of leadership they are under a very different set of pressures to that experienced by men.
But why is this? Why are women treated so unfairly?
Why does society continue to prefer men leaders to women leaders?
How is it that in the 21st century we are still facing wholesale discrimination not just against women as individual leaders, but against the very concept of femininity?
Because that is the problem here – when it comes to demonstrating power and performance, femininity still appears no a match for masculinity.
This book chapter was the culmination of many years researching masculinities in management and its findings relate directly to this issue of masculinity as the prevailing and persistent paradigm for leadership and management. As the study finds, to understand why women face a long and at times exhausting haul up the career ladder one needs to understand the culture of masculinism at the heart of leadership, if not society.
The first substantial academic research into men, masculinities and management took place in the early 1990s. Back then, the representation of women in management was low, typically between 2 and 5 per cent in the UK, USA, and Australia. Indeed, the 1995 National Institute of Management Survey actually found a fall in women managers from 10.2% in 1993, to 9.8% in 1994. It was around this time that terms such as ‘glass ceiling’ started to emerge.
But 25 years later and the situation is very different.
Women are moving into senior leadership positions in greater number. And this is a global phenomenon.
Indeed, East and South East Asia are, if anything, now starting to lead the world on female representation in senior management and executive positions. There has also been a corresponding move towards more ‘feminine work practices’, with organisations apparently recognising that emotional intelligence is a key quality for 21st century leaders to possess. In Asia, women are challenging centuries of patriarchal prejudice. Modern Independent Asian Women are a cultural and economic force in their own right, not only independent but educated and entrepreneurial. The fact that so many are also deciding against traditional feminine expressions (marriage, familial duty, motherhood) merely signals the dramatic social change at work here.
And yet, all is still not well.
And the reason why has more to do with gendered organisational culture than the ratio of women to men in leadership.
Leadership and Management: A Masculine Space
Historically, males have been the gender that became managers and leaders. Few females ever attained such power, status and authority. Arising from this ‘man in management’ is a culture which privileges and indeed serves, that very identity.
This culture is named by gender sociologists as ‘masculinism’.
When masculinism pervades a culture, whether it be an organisation such as an international school, or a single community, the paradigm is one which favours not just the male identity but the male way of being: the male voice, the male presence, the male decision-making process, the male as leader. This culture doesn’t need to be physically dominated by males in order to function and exist as a place where femininity gets marginalised to the periphery. Quite simply, masculinism relegates women to the position of ‘other’.
Unfortunately, women too easily come to accept this role, seeing it equate with femininity as secondary, femininity as sacrifice, femininity as subordinate to masculinity. In other words, women come to relate to themselves, to men and to other women through a culture which renders them as the ‘other’; secondary. This is the reason why women are finding it hard to get elected to positions of power and why even today, a significant percentage of women around the world consider men to be better leaders.
Therefore, when we go looking for gender in management and leadership it is not enough to study the ratio of women to men. We have to look closely at the organisational culture. And one way to do this is to question men leaders about their own sense of being men.
Below are some tell-tale indicators of how a masculinist culture surfaces in both everyday (school management) practices and in the subjectivities of men leaders:
Men leaders rely heavily on women subordinates to do the emotional labour of the organisation.
Women are relied upon if not expected to adopt positions of ‘mother’, both to male leaders and other staff. E.g. they are utilised to smooth out problems which men leaders are unwilling or incapable of dealing with.
When organisational problems are resolved by women, men leaders tend to take the credit.
Men hold the key committee chairs. They control the agenda and control the meetings. The SMT gender ratio may be 50/50 but the more powerful departments and positions are held by men.
Within the school, masculinist sub-groups emerge which are heavily invested in male bonding practices (sport, drinking). These groups operate as a secondary layer of power within the school, albeit often informally.
Men leaders recruit in their own image. This is a particular problem for those schools owned and headed by males and which have no formal and professionally run HR department.
Male voices (e.g. in meetings and in the decision-making process) get prioritised over female voices. This is not simply about speaking louder, it is about speaking with such confidence even aggression, that women back off.
Men teachers put themselves forward for promotion confidently, consistently and more often than their women colleagues.
Older men leaders tend to mentor younger men, especially through the ‘boys own’ networks that operate in international schools as elsewhere.
Women leaders and influencers in a school tend to be more visible in the ‘soft’ areas of management and school operation; e.g. HR, counselling, SEN, student welfare.
Finally, there is a simple questioning device that can be used to assess where men managers are in relation to their awareness of themselves as men and masculine subjects. Ask the man manager/leader this question:
‘How do you think your experiences as a manager and leader have been affected by you being a man?’
From the evidence of my own research, and detailed in this book chapter, few if any men will be able to answer this question with any degree of coherence and self-awareness.
Women, on the other hand, tend to answer it quite easily.
Whitehead, S. (2014). Masculinities in Management: Hidden, Invisible, and Persistent. In The Oxford Handbook of Gender in Organizations, Oxford University Press.
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