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Sexism still rife in Wales, say researchers

Sexism is rife in education in Wales, and the principality's macho culture is partly to blame, according to researchers at the University of Wales, Swansea.

While more than half of teachers are women, only 8.8 per cent of heads are female. There are only two women principals of FE colleges - Gorseinon College, Swansea, and Ystrad Mynach in Mid Glamorgan - and none of the 22 Welsh unitary authorities has a woman director of education. One county, Dyfed, does not have a single female head of a secondary school.

Dr Hilary Yelett, of the university's education department, produced the report. She said: "I am not a feminist bra-burning type, but there is clearly something wrong in education in Wales. The irony is that outside education, women are doing well." Earlier this week, a conference in Swansea entitled "Women and Educational Leadership in Wales" examined the problem and sought ways of redressing the balance.

Dr Yelett said: "There is something about the culture in Wales. Research has shown that if you have a farmer or a coal-miner on a selection panel, it is more likely they will choose a man rather than a woman. The in-built conservatism of our culture is a problem."

And she added: "I think it's also true that many men find it difficult to work with women in positions of authority. Many do not like taking orders from women."

Paradoxically, things were better in the past when women were chosen as heads of girls-only schools, and were shown to be skilled in the role. At Dr Yelett's own school, one woman head was awarded an OBE for her contribution to education.

Solving the problem was, she said, going to be difficult. Women often faced patronising attitudes that said family and social life would have to be sacrificed for career success. Women also missed out on traditional male networking.

In a European league table, only Italy had a worse record than Wales. Dr Yelett believes women must push themselves more to achieve equality. "Hopefully the conference will prove a first step in recognising the problem and raising awareness that this is going on. Women must not be timid and underestimate their abilities."

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