Gender discrimination faced by ‘nearly half of female teachers’

A new study has revealed the extent of gender discrimination in education

Alec Evans

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Nearly half of female teachers have experienced discrimination at work, a new study has found.

Academics from the University of Nottingham questioned 356 leaders in education, including teachers, heads and governors, as part of a study of the impact of #WomenEd, a social media-based networking group for women in education.

Of these, 171 people (48 per cent) reported being the victims of discrimination.

Sex discrimination was the most common, reported by 22 per cent, followed by age discrimination, experienced by 18 per cent.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination was reported by one in seven of all respondents (13 per cent).

Other discrimination reported included:

  • Disability (5 per cent)
  • Race (4 per cent)
  • Sexual orientation (2 per cent)
  • Religion or belief (2 per cent)
  • Marriage or civil partnership (2 per cent)
  • Gender reassignment (1 per cent)
  • Other reasons (6 per cent)

The majority of respondents (95 per cent) were women.

Dr Kay Fuller, the lead researcher on the project with Dr Jill Berry, said: “I was very surprised that such a high proportion of respondents reported they had suffered discrimination.

“This could be a generational shift. It could be that this group of respondents is very aware of equality issues. It looks as if a younger generation who have been raised to expect equality in the workplace are then very surprised and angry about what they experience there.”

A similar number of people (175 people or 49 per cent) reported having witnessed discrimination happening to someone else in their workplace.

Discrimination reported as part of the survey included a senior leader being excluded from marketing material because she was heavily pregnant, and staff not being selected for training because they were pregnant.

Respondents cited widespread “biases for white men” and reported that men were promoted above better-qualified women and that women’s opinions were ignored.

Many of the complaints were about career progression after returning from maternity leave.

One female senior leader working in a secondary academy in a multi-academy trust complained about “no proper policy to deal with maternity/career progression” in her multi-academy trust.

‘Not just about maternity leave’

Dr Fuller said: “A lot of the respondents experienced issues regarding maternity. They come up against what other research has called ‘the maternal wall’ and they haven’t expected to. I think institutions can improve the situation by recognising that they need family-friendly policies for women and men.

“This is not just a women’s issue and it is not just about maternity leave. It is about family-friendly policies for people with all sorts of caring responsibilities.

“If schools and other organisations can have more family-friendly policies then they will really benefit because they will retain staff and also have very loyal staff. The people who benefit from better maternity and paternity leave and flexible working are extremely loyal to their organisation.”

Respondents who worked in education were teaching staff (28 per cent), in middle leadership (teaching roles) (19 per cent), in senior leadership (teaching roles) (25 per cent) or headteachers/principals (14 per cent). A further 11 per cent were governors, board trustees or directors; 10 per cent were education consultants.

The #WomenEd survey was conducted by Dr Kay Fuller and Dr Jill Berry and funded by a University of Nottingham research development grant. Dr Fuller is leading an ESRC funded event for 100 #WomenEd delegates at the University of Nottingham on Saturday 14 October.

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Alec Evans

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