The art of self-promotion

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
The age of macho management is dead. It's time for women to take their seats at the top table, writes Jean Maskell

You may start climbing the career ladder as a woman, but to get to the top do you have to behave like a man? People get promoted because they get things done, because they achieve or maintain high standards. It shouldn't make a difference whether a person seeking promotion is a man or woman, should it?

It shouldn't, but it does. Women hold almost 67 per cent of full-time permanent teaching posts, more than 90 per cent of part-time jobs, and 80 per cent of fixed-term contracts. Women also hold the majority of primary headships, but less than a quarter of secondary headships.

Last year's Teachers' Pay Survey revealed a greater concentration of women on the lower points of the headteacher salary scale, and three times more men than women at the top. So, despite equal opportunities legislation, women are still not getting the big jobs with the big salaries. Why?

In our society, a woman's management technique may be perceived as weak. A "male" style tends to be more direct, focused on rational problem-solving. A "woman's" style, by contrast, relies on co-operation, communication, support, team-building and participation.

It is the women's style which more closely matches modern needs, although images of tough bosses and the lone male hero persist in the minds of some recruiters. Ambitious, career-minded women are portrayed on film and television as evil or uncaring homemakers, whereas ambitious men are shown as positive role models.

However, when Brenda Barnes resigned as North America chief executive of PepsiCo last autumn, USA Today reported that in the past decade the number of people aspiring to be managers had halved, and reasoned that disgruntled employees, long hours and loss of family life were the causes for both men and women.

Research such as that carried out by Marilyn Davidson and Cary Cooper in Stress and the Woman Manager (published by Martin Robertson) shows that women managers have more stress triggers in work and in their personal lives as a result of the mix of family, work, society and personal expectations.

Hilary Bills, headteacher of Holyhead primary school, Wednesbury, West Midlands, spoke about how such problems can be addressed at a recent "Moving into Management" course run by the National Union of Teachers. She advises aspiring women managers to "Worry in order! Make a list of things to do and stop worrying about everything. A woman carries a home as well as a management role - always have time in the week to not think about work or school at all."

Women who are not true to their own styles will not be happy in their promotion. Many schools work hard at their community and family ethos; maybe it's time for women managers in education to reclaim their own identities, values and definitions of success in the workplace.

Jean Maskell is an assistant education officer with Liverpool education authority

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