3rd September 2010 at 01:00
`Improvement comes through a change in culture'

In secondary schools in England, the majority of teachers are female, but women are much less likely to become headteachers. After researching the impact of gender on headship over the last 15 years it seems to me that there are two main reasons for this. One is a conscious or unconscious expectation that leaders are, or should be, men; the other is to do with the sort of life choices that women contemplating headship have to make.

In a national survey, approximately 96 per cent of male secondary heads were married and only 2 per cent divorced. The vast majority of them had wives or partners who had put their career on the "back burner" and took major responsibility for running the home and looking after children.

The female heads had much less support than the males, with 78 per cent married or partnered, 10 per cent single and 10 per cent divorced. Those married or partnered were very unlikely to have partners who took responsibility for home and children.

Women heads were also less likely to have children: only 63 per cent had children compared to 90 per cent of male heads. Some women may be making a choice between headship and motherhood.

In my current research with female leaders in all walks of life, the same two challenging factors emerge: combating the male stereotype of leadership and the difficulties of combining a demanding role at work with a satisfactory workfamily balance. Improvement comes through a change in culture, but change is very slow.

Dr Coleman is an emeritus reader in educational leadership at the Institute of Education. Her book, Women at the Top: Challenge, Choice and Change, is to be published early next year by Palgrave Macmillan.

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