Why join the #WomenEd debate?

In this blog, WomenEd co-founder Hannah Wilson, a Vice Principal in a South London Academy and an aspiring Headteacher, tells us why she connected with other female leaders via social media to launch a grassroots movement to promote equality, diversity and inclusive school leaders.

The Context

I have been a teacher for 13 years and I have had responsibility and been a TLR holder since my second year of teaching. My leadership journey started at my third school in my fifth year when I became a Middle Leader. It was at this point that I stepped back and looked up the hierarchy - all I could see above me on the ladder were white men. 

This frustrated me as the preferred leadership template did not reflect the staff body, nor the student body. I challenged the status quo and quickly became the only female Senior Middle Leader within a term of joining the academy. Two years later, I affected change by breaking through the glass ceiling and joining the Senior Leadership Team as the second female leader, and as one of the youngest team members. 

The support I received when my promotion was announced, from male and female colleagues, was overwhelming; there was a sense of the tide changing and different leadership styles being recognised. A few years later I was approached to become the Vice Principal on an all-male SLT at our sister academy.

This academic year, the issues behind WomenEd have been embodied for me in my journey to Headship. Applying for both sideways Deputy Headteacher roles to relocate, and opportunities to step up to lead my own school, I was shortlisted for my first Headship interview. 

Of 20+ candidates, only 3 were female. I found myself at interview as the only female candidate, the youngest by far, competing against 5 white men. We were assessed by white, middle aged men. I very much felt like the token female. Even my host at the hotel told me that my face did not fit and that I did not have a chance!

This is not just a personal story. The systemic barriers inhibiting leadership opportunities for female are complex. Preferred leadership characteristics, career parents juggling childcare and career development, career gaps, unconscious bias and lack of part-time leadership opportunities are some of the issues cited by our community.

The Statistics

Women in secondary headships nationally:

  • 2012 61.0% of teachers, 37.0% of heads

  • 2013 63.6% of teachers, 36.4% of heads

  • 2014 63.9% of teachers, 37.1% of heads

Women in primary headships nationally:

  • 2012 86.0% of teachers, 70.7% of heads

  • 2013 87.4% of teachers, 71.8% of heads

  • 2014 87.0% of teachers, 72.3% of heads

Building a Movement: the Development of WomenEd

April 2015 saw a flurry of heated debate on Twitter, over some of the published articles exploring why there is such a discrepancy in the education sector between the number of female teachers and the number of female leaders. I volunteered to host a #SLTchat in July 2015 to unpick some of the barriers and identify some of the solutions to closing the gap in leadership opportunities for women.

The Twitter debate spilled into blogging forums and StaffRm came to light with a lot of new edu-bloggers and emerging, predominantly female, voices. If you search #WomenEd on StaffRm there are in excess of 150 posts on different gender issues from work-life balance, to leadership styles to the imposter syndrome. 

Helena Marsh, one of the other co-founders, hosted a #digimeet #slowchat to continue the discussions - the comments and dialogue threads are as enriching as the posts themselves.

Out of all this, emerged seven female leaders who connected with the aim of collaboratively leading the movement and develop WomenEd - thus the WomenEd Steering Group was born. 

We coordinated and collated the offers of help to create a grassroots movement and a launch event. The tweets and blogs caught the attention of the Microsoft Education team who came on board to support us. They offered technological support and to host our launch event at their London headquarters.

The Unconference, London

3 October 2015 celebrated the culmination of 6 months of virtual discussions. 220 aspiring and existing female leaders (among them several Teach First alumni) came together to collaborate and share their experiences face-to-face. 60 delegates volunteered to facilitate professional learning dialogues, lead sessions and deliver key notes. Our themes for this event included: Confident Leaders, Diverse Leaders, Wider Leadership and Juggling Leadership and Life.

The Virtual Community

To sustain the impact of the Unconference and to grow the #WomenEd community Microsoft have commissioned an independent Yammer network for us to use as a platform for networking. The inclusive leadership community is rapidly expanding - join us for one of our monthly #YamJams. It is a brilliant platform for networking with other aspiring and exisiting leaders, nationwide and beyond as we gain international attention.

Moving the Movement Forward – Mission and Principles

WomenEd is very much a collaborative network so our values have evolved as the community has connected. We have concretised our mission: to empower more women in education to take their next leadership step. We have also identified our principles as The 7 C’s: to clarify the issues; to communicate the solutions; to connect existing and aspiring leaders; to create an inclusive and interactive community; to collaborate and share experiences; to challenge the systemic barriers; to affect change by collating evidence of the impact of developing inclusive/ diverse leadership models.

Throughout the spring term our volunteer Regional Leaders will be connecting and collaborating at their Orientation Days where they will identify regional priorities and plan regional activities. The 12 regions each have their own group within the WomenEd community to share ideas, resources and opportunities.

The Residential, Wiltshire

Our ‘Next Step’ is our residential career development event in February. Hosted by Wellington Academy, this event is happening in the peak of application season. We want to support you in preparing to take the next step on the leadership ladder. 

Our themes for this event are applying, preparing, conducting and reflecting on taking your next steps in your career progression. There will also be Women in Leadership key notes. By the end of the residential you will be ready to apply for your next role - you will have an updated CV, a LinkedIn Profile, improved letter/ application writing skills. 

You will have had listened to the assessors, practised assessment tasks and role-played the interview questions. You will have listened to our inspirational key note speakers and participated in our hands-on practical sessions. You will also have networked, listened and shared experiences with the #womened community who you will connect and collaborate with.

Following this we have an event in Bristol in April, together with presentations at NetworkEd, Northern Rocks and Ed Fest, leading up to our Unconference on 8 October 2016.

Hannah blogs on StaffRm as MissWilsey and tweets as @Miss_Wilsey

You can find out more about WomenEd by visiting the website.

You can join the Yammer community.

You can find out more about the Residential.