Helping women to smash glass ceiling

6th July 2007 at 01:00

Both women and men are contributing to leadership and management of the FE sector in substantial numbers and at every level. Compared with the national picture for all occupational sectors, women are well represented in education management, but while women are over-represented in first line management roles, they continue to be under-represented at senior management and principal levels and on governing bodies.

These were the findings of research carried out for the Centre for Excel-lence in Leadership and the Women's Leadership Network, which we jointly published in a report on gender-related factors in career progression earlier this month.

In a predominantly female workforce, men still outnumber women in senior positions. Our research showed, for example, that 58 per cent of first line managers were women. This dropped to 54 per cent at middle manager level, 45 per cent at senior management, and down to just 39 per cent for principals.

Career breaks may be a key to disparity at the highest levels. Those who go for the top jobs are unlikely to have had any length of time out of the sector. As women tend to have longer career breaks, they are likely to find themselves in lower positions as their careers progress. Most of the men and women interviewed felt that such breaks had a negative effect on career progress, and one respondent said he would base selection decisions on an applicant's history of breaks.

Most male respondents (71 per cent) said that they were happy with their work life balance, whereas only 33 per cent of women were happy. The general view was that women were more likely to suffer an imbalance in their work-life situation, mainly because of family and domestic commitments.

Women were more likely than men to see supportive line managers and colleagues as important in applying for their current role and support from lower-level staff as being important for performing their role effectively.

Both men and women said the important strategies for achieving women's equality included induction processes for students and staff, and monitoring and implementing equality impact assessments.

There is now a statutory duty on all public authorities to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity between men and women. We will work with the WLN, led by Sally Dicketts, principal of Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, to continue addressing the significant "glass ceiling" effect in the FE sector.

A major role for the WLN, which was launched at the House of Lords this spring, will be to create and promote networking opportunities for professional women in the sector. This may help demystify the role of principal and will complement CEL's qualifying programme for principals.

Another potential area for networking is to influence attitudes towards the selection and promotion of managers and provide support for women governors.

Supporting women at every leadership level forms an integral part of our remit to ensure equality of opportunity throughout the FE system.

Lynne Sedgmore is chief executive of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership

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