Almost one in two female teachers in Australian schools have experienced some kind of barrier or discrimination throughout their careers, according to a new survey administered by the National Excellence in School Leadership Initiative (NESLI).
The 2018 Australian Schools Gender Survey is believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, and points to consistent patterns of severe bias in hiring practices, salaries and professional development plans, a boys’ club culture in some schools and behavioural prejudices against women leaders within the education sector.
When asked “As a woman, have you ever experienced barriers or discrimination within a school (can be your current or former school)?”, 46 per cent of respondents said yes, 39 per cent said no and 15 per cent were unsure.
Respondents were asked to specify what kind of barriers or discrimination they most commonly faced. They reported that women in schools are often undermined in meetings and do not get the same promotional opportunities (especially when of childbearing age), and that women leaders are sometimes seen as weak and ineffective, especially when working in boys’ schools.
Survey respondents reported that these prejudicial behaviours and attitudes don’t only come from within the internal ranks of the school. Parents (particularly fathers) exhibit the same predispositions, whether it’s their preference for speaking with a male member of staff, bullying from male parents on a school council who did not perceive that a female leader was capable of understanding the finances of a school, or just a general perception from parents that women aren’t as ‘strong’ as men and that males are better principals.
Dr Janet Smith, Leader of NESLI’s 2018 Year of Women in School Leadership, has said she finds these results extremely disappointing and problematic. “It is totally unacceptable that in 2018, nearly half of the women teachers who were surveyed have reported experiencing some form of disadvantage or discrimination because of their gender.”
The Education and Training sector is officially ‘female-dominated’, with 70.6 per cent of the workforce being women. Since 1995, this is an increase of 5.2 per cent, when females made up 65.4 per cent of industry employees.
The picture is starker when looking at the participation of women in leadership roles – particularly for schools. 80% and 58.4% of In Australia’s primary and secondary schools, 80 per cent and 58.4 per cent of teachers are female, respectively, yet only 57.5 per cent and 41.7 per cent of principals in each of those sectors are female.
Respondents were also asked what they think would be most helpful or supportive in addressing this issue. The most common sentiments included better support from colleagues, mentoring schemes/arrangements, leadership training and professional development and being offered more opportunities to progress.
Other ideas included allowing women to work flexibly in leadership roles and not being penalised for taking maternity leave, identification of institutionalised sexism and gender discrimination and an action plan to remedy, and developing a strong reciprocal network of female trusted leaders.
Amore positive response was achieved when NESLI asked the survey respondents to rate their current level of personal wellbeing at work. The most common responses were ‘Good’ (46.7 per cent), ‘Fair’ (27.31 per cent) and ‘Excellent’ (20.7 per cent). Only 1 in 20 respondents said that their level of wellbeing was either ‘Poor’ or ‘Very Poor’ (5.29 per cent).
The survey was launched by NESLI as part of their 2018 Year of Women in School Leadership. The 12 month period includes a range of research activities, events and development programs to address the problems highlighted in the 2018 Australian Schools Gender Survey.
Although only 253 female teachers responded to several thousands of surveys distributed, of those respondents, 88 per cent of those had been in the teaching industry for more than 10 years and 90 per cent were principals or school leaders, NESLI reported.
“The results of this survey have further strengthened NESLI’s commitment to this issue,” Dr Smith said. “We look forward to working with women teachers and school leaders throughout 2018, to support and inspire them and to help reduce the challenges and barriers they face.”
The results of the survey will be discussed further at the forthcoming Australian Schools Women’s Leadership Summit in Sydney on 18th April.
More information on the Summit is available at http://www.nesli.org/schoolssummit.html