SPANZ - in a land of plenty (men) and an opportunity for women


Today marks the first full day at the Secondary Principals of Aotearoa New Zealand (SPANZ) conference. 

Today we get to sit through the first three of five keynotes, all of which are men. 

To put this into context, Principalship in New Zealand is dominated by men. In 2019 37% of secondary school leaders were female, this is in contrast to the secondary teacher workforce where 63% are women. Whilst we have made progress over the last thirty years going from 19%  to 37% female leaders, we are still very much under-represented. 

Considering the influence and reach secondary leaders have and the important responsibility they fulfil in leading our young people what is the price we pay for this under representation??

Source: NZCER

Above are the stats that are laid out in NZCER's Women becoming secondary school leaders: Barriers, supports, and enablers Report written by Cathy Wylie, Jo MacDonald, and Renee Tuifagalele and published in 2020. 

In the report, Wylie, MacDonald, and Tuifagele pose the following questions: 
  • The current state—What do we know about women in secondary school leadership and their pathways to and through positional leadership roles?
  • Barriers—What are the barriers to women being in positional leadership roles in secondary schools? Why are women 63% of the secondary teaching workforce, but only 37% of secondary school principals? 
  • Supports and enablers—What policies and practices have been identified to better support women’s pathways into and through positional leadership roles in secondary schools?
The report identifies three key barriers:
  • Gender framing of the principal’s role as masculine
  • Women underestimating their leadership skills, and capacity
  • Gendered family responsibilities and roles 
There are five key supports and enablers identified in the research reviewed. These range from the
structural to the personal.
  • Unbiased promotion and appointment processes
  • Principals and other school leaders who actively develop, encourage, and mentor, and who open up opportunities and networks for women
  • Creating more flexible principal roles
  • Women’s own planning and initiative, and the availability of appropriate leadership professional development
  • Partners or friends who provide practical and emotional support.
The report as a whole is well worth a read and can be accessed here:

So coming back to SPANZ and the SPANZ conference. As I ponder these findings and the fact that the keynotes are all male, that the president and vice presidents are male and the school leadership space is still predominantly male, what can we do differently? Surely as leaders of leaders the change starts at the top? 

One idea that comes to mind is SPANZ (looking at you Vaughan Couillault) signing up to Global Woman Champions for Change

Champions for Change is a group of 55 leading CEOs and Chairs, each with a personal mission to accelerate inclusive and diverse leadership in our workplaces. Champions believe in inclusive environments where employees can contribute to the success of the company as their authentic selves, while the organisation respects and leverages their unique talents and gives them a sense of connectedness. One thing that you must commit to if you do sign up for Champions for Change is ensuring any panels/conferences have equal representation of men and women. This would be a great first step for a group such as SPANZ. 

Source: Global Women | Champions for Change

The second thing I wonder about is the opportunity for the establishment of SPANZ Women. Why a seperate group? Because until we achieve equality we need to prioritise those that are under represented. We need to be our own champions for change. 

Thirdly, I think we need to address our school boards. As the bodies who are responsible for appointing our school leaders we need to ensure they are aware of the current situation and the very real benefits of having a leadership population that reflects the young people we lead. 

Also, we only need to look around the globe at effective system leadership throughout the COVID crisis to see the benefits afforded by female leadership.
Read: The COVID crisis shows why we need more female leadership

And on a more personal note as a mother of two young women I am reminded of the quote by Marian Wright Edelman - “You can’t be what you can’t see.” 

We need to see female leaders, in the leadership of SPANZ, on the conference stage and in each and every school around our country. 

Recommended Reading:
Global Women | Champions for Change - Diversity & Inclusion Impact 2020 Report


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