Women principals are more likely than male counterparts to lose their jobs when colleges merge, new research suggests.
Of the eight principal posts that disappeared in college mergers last year, seven were held by women, according to the Women's Leadership Network (WLN).
However, the WLN said that in three of the cases where female principals lost out, they did so to other women.
Overall, the network found that the proportion of women principals in FE stayed at 36 per cent for the second year running. This is despite women comprising 60 per cent of college managers and 64 per cent of the workforce.
The WLN figures, covering the period February 2009 to February 2010, suggest that the proportion of female principals is unlikely to change dramatically soon as, of the 47 new principals appointed last year, 17 (36 per cent) were women.
Sally Dicketts, principal and chief executive of Oxford and Cherwell Valley College and the network's chair, said: "We were disappointed that the percentage of women principals has not budged from 36 per cent during the last year - and quite surprised to see that seven of the eight chief executive posts that disappeared in mergers in the last year had been held by women.
"We hear that some governing bodies don't think that women can be tough enough to run large colleges, which is illogical when you consider that 46 per cent of 157 Group colleges were run by women during the period and the two highest paid chief executives are women."
The 157 Group said half of its 28 member colleges now had women at the helm and that it expected two more women principals to be appointed this year, taking the total to 16, or 57 per cent of members.
Asha Khemka, principal of West Nottinghamshire College, and Jackie Fisher, principal of Newcastle College, topped the principal's pay list for 200809 with pound;197,000 and pound;196,000 respectively.
Lynne Sedgmore, 157 Group executive director, said: "This shows that when women have the confidence to go for the top jobs, they get them. More women are coming into the 157 Group and we are delighted by that."
Women head 38 per cent of the 230 general FE colleges in England. But they run just 29 per cent - up from 26 per cent the year before - of the country's 93 sixth-form colleges, including only four out of the 17 based in the South East.
David Igoe, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges' Forum, said: "One of the problems we have is that, with only 93 colleges, a change in a couple of principals works out at a 2 per cent shift in the malefemale ratio. We are trying to promote equality and this is an area in which we are keen to move forward."
The North West of England boasts the greatest proportion of female principals, with 45 per cent of the 55 colleges in the region run by women. However, looking at general FE colleges in isolation, the South East does best with 53 per cent of its 34 colleges run by women. The East Midlands has the lowest proportion of female principals with three- quarters of its 24 colleges run by men.
Nicola Broady, senior employment analyst and adviser for the Association of Colleges, welcomed the second WLN study. "It highlights the success of women principals and shows some encouraging trends, in particular the number of women principals leading large colleges," she said. "The network is right to identify the opportunity for further research and we will be interested to see the results of the survey project which seeks to define more clearly the barriers and facilitators for women in their career progression."
- The WLN is hosting a conference jointly with the Network for Black Professionals on May 26 (www.impactthroughdiversity.co.uk)
WOMEN IN CHARGE
The proportion of female FE principals by region
Eastern Region 32%
East Midlands 25%
Greater London 34%
North East 29%
North West 45%
South East 38%
South West 33%
West Midlands 34%
Yorkshire and Humberside 37%
National average 36%.