Leadership, Gender and Culture in Education: male and female perspectives

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Leadership, Gender and Culture in Education: male and female perspectives Edited by John Collard and Cecilia Reynolds Open University Press pound;19.99 (pbk) This book is not for the faint-hearted. The authors from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden all write from a sociological perspective and some in their own language (I don't mean Swedish). Nevertheless, some interesting ideas survive translation.

John Collard, one of the co-editors, reminds us about the research that indicates that male and female leaders adopt different leadership styles.

Crudely, the thesis is that women are more care-oriented than men, and men are biased towards rationality, authority and task orientation. Collard suggests this acceptance of polarised difference between the sexes may be stereotyped. His study of headteachers in Victoria, Australia, confirms some previous claims, but modifies others. He analysed responses by the size of the institution represented and found that size was more influential in determining leadership styles than the sex of the leader or the phase of education.

Not surprisingly, more women are heads of small schools, and it is easier to be collaborative in small schools. School size also had an impact on how the heads perceived their staff's attitude towards leadership; more heads of large schools thought teachers wanted "strong leadership from the top" than those in small schools. Although the quality of relationships was better in small schools, leaders of both genders in these institutions were more likely to experience stress and exhaustion as a consequence of the limited human resources available to them. The editors conclude that we need more nuanced theories of leadership styles, which recognise a complex range of variables.

Margaret Grogan, from the United States, raises some interesting issues about mentoring and the need to be aware that mentors who have succeeded in the system may have no desire to change the status quo and may encourage "undesirable practices". She also says mentoring can increase women's workloads, as they are often chosen to be mentors.

Sandra Acker, from Canada, compares women leaders in higher education in Australia, Britain and Canada. Her final sentence will be resonant for many working in all spheres of the public sector: "Governments and institutions are eager to set targets and measure performance, but who is caring about what happens to the individuals who are sacrificing many aspects of their hard-won careers to manage the madness?"

Kate Myers is senior associate, leadership for learning, Cambridge University.

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