Having been involved in a flurry of #WomenEd events in the Eastern region over the last few weeks, a notable theme has been leadership identity. The well-loved Usborne children's book series springs to mind...
Women have told me that they don't feel that they are Head teacher material as they are too nice, too friendly, too caring or too emotional. A couple believe they are too small (Have I got enough gravitas for the role with my tiny stature?) Others have shared their concerns about being too young (Will I be taken seriously by others if I apply for the role in my late twenties/early thirties?) Some believe that they are too old (Have I 'missed the boat' and left it too late to make the leap to headship?)
The consensus among many has been a fear of not being dynamic or charismatic enough, either stemming from personal belief or a fear of others' perceptions that they are lacking in essential leadership qualities or abundant in seemingly antagonistic attributes. It strikes me that women are striving for a perfect, unrealistic, combination of features to convince themselves and others that they have what it takes to lead a school. It's the classic confidence vs. competence dilemma. As Summer Turner memorably shared at one of our WomenEd hub events last year, we need to ask ourselves: 'Are the boys worrying about this?'
I can think of at least four male peers who trained to teach at the same time as me who are now in head teacher roles, one who has set up his own free school and is now forming a MAT. I don't know of any fellow female PGCE students that are now in SLT - some were but have now stepped down due to life events/personal choices.
While I sit among male primary teachers in my NPQH cohort that exclaim with surety and conviction 'I've always wanted to be a headteacher', their female counterparts (who interesting are equal in number on this programme which is not reflective of the 9:1 ratio in the sector) are almost apologetic for their ambition.
In being bold for change, we need to stop naval gazing and turn the 'I couldn't possibly's into 'why can't I?'s and then 'I can's. We need to fortify out gut instincts to take the braver path when we have a appetite for leadership, rather than opting for the easier, more familiar route due to self doubt and deprecation.
Having grown up with narratives such as Goldilocks, shaming girls for being bolshy and creating the myth that there is such a thing as 'just right', it's hardly surprising that women are pre-dispositioned to be cautious about stepping up into the spotlight of leadership.
We can either accept this unhealthy and damaging paradigm and the prehistoric arguments such as Polish MEP's justification that women deserve the pay gap as we are 'smaller, weaker and less intelligent', or we can be bold and act for change.