How to empower your female colleagues

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Date published 19 January 2018

“Leaders become great not because of their power but because of their ability to empower others” - John Maxwell.

I’m in what some may see as a privileged position. In my school, all the senior leaders are women and all the middle leaders are women. You might not be surprised to discover I lead in a primary school.

I’ve been inspired by many women throughout my career, but the biggest impression was left by my NQT mentor, Ruth. She was such an inspirational woman. I feel like she’s always with me on my leadership journey, in the back of my mind.

Every weekend, I’d send her my plan for the week and she’d annotate the whole thing: she’d write all over it with suggestions. The fact that she would take time out every weekend to help me meant so much to me. It showed how much she really cared.

Now it’s my turn to empower those new starters who look up to me.


A few years ago, I began to look after an TA who was having a difficult time. They’d worked with several colleagues who hadn’t succeeded in helping them settle. I have a real belief that anyone can do anything and if they can’t do something it’s because they haven’t been taught. Of course, this is my philosophy for pupils as well as staff!

These are the things I did to empower that TA:

1. Team teaching: As she watched me model best practice, her confidence blossomed by joining in

2. Used positive praise: by telling her what she was doing right, it built her confidence to address the things she wasn’t quite getting right yet

3. Documented everything: between us we kept a Google Document of the things she’d done well and the things she could work on so that it was clear, visible and actionable

4. Listened to her: in my experience, if someone hears that their voice is listened to and respected then they feel immediately empowered

5. Believed in her: if someone believes you can do something, it makes you more likely to – it’s as simple as that


Our deputy headteacher covered my role for a few days last year and remarked “she’s not the same person!” about the TA. She said the TA had really taken on the advice I had given her and praised me for it, which was great to hear.

Although I’m all about giving confidence to others and empowering them, I still have a way to go myself. I feel so inspired by female colleagues, and the female trainers I encountered when I joined Ambition's leadership development programme, Teaching Leaders. Everyone really made me feel like I could do it.

I’m so confident as a teacher – throw me into any class in any situation and I can do it! But as a leader? That’s something I’m still working on.

Our previous Early Years Lead was a man, and I’m finding it hard to get the same respect from colleagues that he received, potentially because he had so much experience and because he was so good at his job. I began my career five years ago as a teaching assistant so I think that’s always in the back of my mind.

I’m finding it difficult to balance wanting to be liked and keeping colleagues at a distance, as well as my eternal fear of anything with the word ‘data’ in it. My confidence will grow, I’m sure of it, but it will take time and training. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be inspired and empowered by my female colleagues and role models, and continue my attempts to empower and inspire other women.

Ambition School Leadership is offering its first ever women-only cohort of the Headship Programme, which supports ambitious senior school leaders to become great headteachers of schools in challenging contexts.

The programme is delivered in partnership with #WomenEd and Leading Women’s Alliance, and starts in March 2018. It aims to take positive action to address the under-representation of women in headship positions in schools serving disadvantaged children and their communities.

The deadline to apply is 28 January. To find out more about our all-female Headship Programme, follow this link.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

Hooda Samad
Hooda Samad
Early Years Lead, Montgomery Primary School

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