Last night we had the first meeting of WomenEdNL. A platform of women in leadership in education, started 2 years ago in the UK. So this was a first gathering of women leaders in education in the Netherlands at Junior School Vlaskamp and organised by colleagues Liz Free and Sue Aspinall.
It was amazing to hear the very personal stories of the four other speakers who talked about their personal journey to positions of leadership and the battles they had to fight to beat stereotyping and at times prejudice against women and to hold their ground in leadership positions. Very inspiring and encouraging talks at the same time, and especially the message of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ of Angela Parry-Davies’ talk was conveying the message to take bold steps for future women leaders. You don’t need to get it 100% right before you take on a leadership role! And as Juliette van Eerdewijk mentioned in her speech, your mistakes and your ‘enemies’ are your best friends of which you learn the most!
My speech was inspired by recent research that showed that boys and girls at age 4 – 5 all have big dreams about their future careers, and when asked what they would like to be they equally want to be astronauts, president, firemen and the like. However at age 7 – 8, all boys still have the same big dreams but those of the girls have vanished! How is this possible? What happened between age 4 and 7? How can this perception of their capabilities be so different at age 7 already?! What I think has happened is stereotyping; at home, in their social environment, and in schools!
So what does research show us? Why do still only very few women make it to the top? London Business School (LBS 2016) did research into the position of women in business and as recent as in 2016 only 7 out of 100 FTSE companies had female CEO’s and none were present at the top of FTSE 350 companies. The same, continued research showed that the main problem lies earlier in the process, women not promoting up the corporate ladder within the companies. External recruitment firms placed 12.5 % of women in jobs and companies hiring externally placed 6.7 % of women in jobs.
What are leaders in companies to do to break this trend? The key factor to break this so called Stereotype Threat (meaning treating people according to age, gender, religion and / or ethnicity) and that especially affects women, is to create a growth mind set within companies. Success is not a fixed thing based on intelligence, gender or qualifications. Skills and abilities grow and develop overtime. And as some of the speakers illustrated last night, they require taking bold steps, and to not be afraid of mistakes and resistance of others. Companies need a culture of belonging; everyone belongs here and everyone here has high potential. Professional development and investing in people plays a huge role in this.
So what does research into education show us? Urban Myths about Learning and Education, by Debruyckere and Kirschner, talks about misperceptions in learning and education, such as the myth of different learning styles which don’t exist, but also about research into how students evaluate their teachers, which shows that there is no correlation between how students rate teachers and how students perform. Further study showed that students rate male teachers as brilliant and female teachers as bossy! What the heck?
What are leaders in education to do to break this negative stereotyping of women, for both students and staff? Even though education is largely dominated by female teachers (especially in primary education), only very few women still make it to the top positions. And coming back to my initial statement, where and how do girls ‘loose’ their ambition? Some of my thoughts and answers are; ban any behaviour and language that stereotypes girls (or boys for that matter), teach and model equality. Talk about life choices and how they will affect your life. And encourage both boys and girls to take bold steps in their careers. Self-confidence is key in education!
What a great start it was to start off WomenEdNL and to be able to share very personal stories and to encourage women to take bold steps! To be continued….