Half of FE women encounter barriers to career progression

18th June 2010 at 01:00
New findings also reveal that for black and minority-ethnic staff, the figure rises to 75%

Nearly 50 per cent of women have experienced barriers to career progression in further education, rising to three-quarters of those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, according to a new report.

The proportion of women actually experiencing barriers (44 per cent) was far less than the 89 per cent who perceived obstacles to promotion and progression, according to a survey of 470 women, mainly managers, by the Women's Leadership Network (WLN) and the Learning and Skills Network.

However, when women from white and black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds were compared, 42 per cent of the former had experienced actual barriers to progression compared with 75 per cent of the latter group.

Domestic or family commitments were cited by 18 per cent of respondents as a barrier to progression, lack of organisational structures for promotion by 16 per cent, lack of mentoring and career coaching by 12 per cent, and poor line management by 12 per cent.

The WLN also held a series of eight regional research events between December last year and January. These again identified family commitments as the most common barrier, as well as a lack of flexible working practices for senior FE staff.

Thalia Marriott, director of the WLN, said women's competing priorities were only part of the story: "While women do need more flexible working opportunities, the striking finding for me was the inconsistent approach across the sector towards encouraging and bringing on talent - the difference between positive and negative cultures and the impact that they can have on women, and of course on men as well."

Previous studies showed that while women comprised 64 per cent of the FE workforce, they accounted for just 36 per cent of principals.

"The sector needs to take succession planning seriously, and that starts with each college and its attitude towards professional development for individuals," she said.

The WLN report, funded by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, recommended college policies to support people with caring responsibilities; positive support for career planning and progression; greater emphasis on equality in colleges including more women governors; strategies to increase BME staff in senior roles, including more governors; and confidence- building activities for women.

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