As Hilary Clinton recently announced her intentions to stand for president I was reminded of her line that “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world”. Are our schools tapping into their own pool of female talent?
62% of secondary school teachers are female, yet women make up only 36% of secondary headteachers (HERE). Clearly it’s not just teaching where the glass ceiling seems to be double-glazed. Just 5% (not a typo) of FTSE 100 bosses are women (HERE), while in parliament women make up less than a quarter of MPs.
So what can be done to get more women into senior leadership teams?
Firstly, schools that only allow full time teachers to be post-holders need to catch up with the 21st century. I know of schools where women wanting to return from maternity leave on 4 days per week have been told that to go part time they would need to relinquish any positions of responsibility. Such a measure can push a woman’s career back by a decade, and can force women to make a blunt choice between work and family – a choice that men rarely have to make in such stark terms.
I’ve worked with women in their twenties who have left the profession because they couldn’t imagine being a mother while teaching. Concerns about workload are well known, but it’s worth reflecting on the cost to our profession of losing women in this way. Schools must be careful not to absorb so much of a teacher’s energy that teachers feel that they have nothing left for their family.
This links to a wider point that we are missing something if our teachers, male or female, have to completely devote themselves to their jobs. We need English teachers who arrive at school on a Thursday morning buzzing because they spent Wednesday evening watching a play at the local theatre, and PE teachers who pick up new ideas for their lessons while attending group fitness classes at the local park. Our politics suffers from a political class lacking in real life experience; let’s not make our classrooms suffer the same fate.
Finally, I wonder if the unions could do more to fight womens’ corner. We’ve all heard of union campaigns against testing, free schools and academies, so it surprises me that they haven’t done more to promote the aspirations of more than half of their members.
As America contemplates the prospect of a female president, schools must continue to chip away at the barriers which hamper the progression of our own talented and ambitious women.