Three times this week I have seen the evidence highlighted that it is still a man’s world and that’s too many times to ignore. All my working life, some 40 years, I’ve been aware of gender inequality but felt the playing field must be levelling. Apparently not, 50% of the population are still not properly represented in leadership roles and therefore not in ultimate decision making.
In my own field of education where two thirds of teachers are female and in the very week we have seen Amanda Spielman appointed as Chief Inspector, never mind Nicky Morgan being our Secretary of State, it seems there is still a glass ceiling. There are the numbers in the TES this week: there are a miniscule number of female CEOs and only 38% of secondary heads are women.
Apparently it’s the same if not worse in business circles. Very few women occupy executive positions on top FTSE 100 Boards despite all sorts of quotas, threats and cajoling to improve the situation. Also depressingly there is a dearth of women at the level just below so the pipeline is not there. There may be all sorts of reasons such as women preferring the flexibility of Non Executive positions or that their career paths tend to be less traditional, more ‘zigzag’ was the phrase I heard but it will not do. We need the skills and attributes of all the population in the very top jobs.
In my time as one of the few women CEOs in education, I was regularly outnumbered in meetings and conferences. It is sad that things have not moved on since then. Only recently at a round table discussion there were three of us to a dozen men.
What to do apart from obviously more women putting themselves forward for top jobs? I don’t favour quotas. Role models and mentors are clearly critical. We need to encourage younger women. Business also needs to be more flexible about pathways followed and embrace ‘zigzag’ routes. Education to be more positive about the experience and importance of headship, it’s a great and rewarding role. We shouldn’t fear the responsibility. There is hope with our new HMCI setting the tone that the climate will be more encouraging. In schools we need to ensure girls as well as boys have pathways that open doors, give leadership opportunities at every level, do more leadership training as in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the CCF.
Across the board we must redouble our efforts to reboot momentum and ensure gender equality at every level and walk of life shines through. Together we do make the best kind of difference.