Greasy pole still leads to a glass ceiling

5th May 1995 at 01:00
American women are inching their way into senior positions in schools and educational administration. But it is a slow process, the figures show.

In 1972, almost 20 per cent of primary school heads, 1.4 per cent of secondary heads, and 1 per cent of superintendents (education authority chiefs) were women. By 1988, the figures had improved slightly to 28.8 per cent of primary heads, 11.6 per cent of secondary heads, and 3.7 per cent of superintendents.

Women are still grossly under-represented in senior jobs compared with their numbers in the profession. More women than men are becoming certified as school administrators, an essential prerequisite for climbing the greasy pole, but fewer women than men end up with the jobs.

Little exists in the way of national or statewide initiatives to help women to progress in teaching or educational administration. Race, rather than gender, is the overriding American obsession. But some general initiatives are thought to have been particularly beneficial in helping women to break through the metaphorical glass ceiling.

One is the creation of assessment centres in most states. Their purpose is to measure the ability of teachers aspiring to become heads, and to promote the idea of recruiting heads by ability rather than "unexplained" factors. Such centres have helped women and ethnic minorities to achieve promotion.

Another technique aimed directly at women has been leadership courses. Professional associations and universities have put on short courses to teach women how to behave in interviews, how to get jobs and make contacts.

Charol Shakeshaft, professor of educational administration at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York state, helped with such courses. "We followed our graduates and compared them with other women and men, and found the technique worked. They were more likely to get jobs than others."

Professor Shakeshaft believes that pressure needs to be put now on school boards and headhunters to persuade them to change their attitudes. Only that way will women progress further.

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