Around half of female teachers say that they’ve experienced discrimination in schools which isn’t great, but on the upside around half also reported that they’re happy enough in their jobs.
While the teaching profession is female dominated with 70.6% of the workforce being women, the gender of those in leadership positions still doesn’t reflect that.
Of Australia’s primary and secondary school teachers, 80% and 58.4% are female respectively, yet only 57.5% and 41.7% of principals in each of those sectors are female according to a survey administered by the National Excellence in School Leadership Initiative (NESLI).
The 2018 Australian Schools Gender Survey, points to consistent patterns of bias in hiring practices, salaries and professional development plans, a boys club culture in some schools and behavioural prejudices against women leaders within the education sector.
When asked ‘As a woman, have you ever experienced barriers or discrimination within a school (can be your current or former school)?’, 46% said yes, 39% said no and 15% were unsure.
Respondents were asked to specify what kind of barriers or discrimination they most commonly faced. They reported that women in schools are often undermined in meetings and do not get the same promotional opportunities (especially when of childbearing age), and that women leaders are sometimes seen as weak and ineffective, especially when working in boys schools.
Parents (particularly fathers) exhibit the same predispositions, whether it’s their preference for speaking with a male member of staff, bullying from male parents on a school council who did not recognise that a women leader was capable of understanding the finances of a school, or just a general perception from parents that women aren't as 'strong' as men and that males are better principals.
Dr Janet Smith, Leader of NESLI’s 2018 Year of Women in School Leadership, has said she finds these results disappointing. “It is totally unacceptable that in 2018, nearly half of the women teachers who were surveyed have reported experiencing some form of disadvantage or discrimination because of their gender.”
Respondents were asked what they think would be most helpful or supportive in addressing this issue. The most common sentiments included better support from colleagues, mentoring schemes/arrangements, leadership training and professional development and being offered more opportunities to progress.
Other ideas included allowing women to work flexibly in leadership roles and not being penalised for taking maternity leave, identification of institutionalised sexism and gender discrimination and an action plan to remedy, and developing a strong reciprocal network of female trusted leaders.
However, when NESLI asked the survey respondents to rate their current level of personal wellbeing at work the most common responses were ‘Good’ (46.7%), ‘Fair’ (27.31%) and ‘Excellent’ (20.7%). Only one in 20 respondents said that their level of wellbeing was either ‘Poor’ or ‘Very Poor’ (5.29%).
The survey was launched by NESLI as part of their 2018 Year of Women in School Leadership. The 12 month period includes a range of research activities, events and development programs to address the problems highlighted in the 2018 Australian Schools Gender Survey.
The results of the survey will be discussed further at the forthcoming Australian Schools Women’s Leadership Summit in Sydney on 18th April. More information: http://www.nesli.org/schoolssummit.html.
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