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Astrea Chief Executive, Libby Nicolas

The barriers faced by Leading Women

Leading Women is a collection of essays from female bosses across the education sector, revealing the challenges and attitudes that hinder them

Posted by Julian Owen | November 17, 2017 | People, policy, politics

A new anthology, Leading Women, highlights the barriers women continue to face when it comes to leading roles in education. The book is published by specialist executive search firm, Wild Search, and takes inspiration from the life of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first Englishwoman to become a qualified doctor and who later co-founded the first medical school to admit women in the UK. One hundred years after her death it reflects on the challenges she faced in reaching that position; barriers which still resonate with women fighting for leadership positions today.

Most prominent in the book runs the theme of childcare. For women to simultaneously raise children and manage a career, they need childcare they can rely on and a flexible schedule, something Astrea Chief Executive Libby Nicolas argues is sadly lacking in the education sector. As she puts it: “Too many women in the most senior positions in education are still having to choose.”

Although the idea that women must choose between motherhood and a career has steadily lost currency in recent decades, more can be done to make the combination easier. As Inspiration Trust’s Chief Executive Dame Rachel de Souza argues, taking time off to raise children or having a period of part-time working negatively impacts a woman’s career in a way that it need not and should not. Attitudes she says “equate time served with talent” remain rife and prevent organisations from utilising women’s full talents.

Another problem can be the lack of role models and mentors available for young women to follow. It was when Elizabeth Garrett Anderson met Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medicine degree in the United States, that she was inspired to become a doctor herself. Many of the Leading Women contributors also attribute their success to mentors. Yet, as Baroness Deech writes, in the corridors of universities and medical colleges, there remain an overwhelming number of male portraits adorning the walls. The lack of confidence many women experience in their career progression - as discussed by Frances King, Head of Mill Hill School - can be partially attributed to this intimidatingly patriarchal legacy.

Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) Chief Executive, Cheryl Giovannoni, argues that skills typically associated with women should also be recognised and included in ideas of leadership. Along with Alice Barnard, who sees the current technical revolution as an opportunity to harness ‘feminine’ skills, Giovannoni discusses how communication, collaboration, effective delegation, creativity and empathy are all crucial qualities women can bring to the table.

Ultimately, the women of this book suggest that despite considerable progress since Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s days, significant gender-based challenges remain in women’s careers, and more needs to be done institutionally, personally and socially for these to be overcome.

Wild Search is an executive search and advisory company specialising in education:

If you would like to download the publication, please click here.




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