Why we need to promote equality

Sept. 12, 2018

Melanie Renowden

Deputy CEO at Ambition School Leadership

“My mother always told me, ‘Hide your face people are looking at you.’ I would reply, ‘It does not matter; I am also looking at them." - Malala Yousafzai

Taking on a leadership role is equal parts frightening and empowering. It forces you to self-reflect and examine the ways in which you portray yourself to the outside world.

As colleagues and students look to you for leadership, it can be tempting to dwell on what they are seeing. Do you measure up to their vision - or your own - of what a leader looks and acts like?

I would hope that none of us are working on the assumption that a leader looks and acts a certain way, but I recognise that in our society stereotypes do prevail and inform our unconscious biases.

From a young age, we are conditioned to think certain people and traits are associated with leadership. In this video, 22 children were asked to draw a firefighter, surgeon and a fighter pilot. Of the 66 pictures drawn, only five were of women.


At Ambition, we held consultations with members of our network to ask them whether they felt gender was a barrier in the journey to leadership. The answer from female members of the network was a resounding yes: female teachers felt that they were disempowered by the system, and at times, some of the people they work with.

One female teacher told us that a female leader working in her school had told her not to pursue leadership as she had recently married and would undoubtedly want to get pregnant soon.

This is unacceptable. Not only because our role as leaders is to empower those around us; but because we shouldn’t accept that someone’s leadership journey ends because of the choices they make in their personal life.

Across the sector, we are seeing individuals and organisations stepping up to challenge the issues they see around them and forming their own solutions. We’ve seen an increase in shared headships and flexible working, reflecting the real-life demands that parents, carers, sons, daughters and partners need to balance with school leadership – and this is just the beginning.

"Female teachers felt that they were disempowered by the system, and at times, some of the people they work with."

We have also seen the rise of WomenEd, BAMEed, and most recently LGBTed, all of which are ensuring that the full range of voices in the system are heard and informing the direction of travel for equality, diversity and inclusion in schools and in education policy-making.

At Ambition, we’re committed to ensuring that our leaders represent the society they serve and that every leader has an equal chance to take the next step in their career.

Finding ways around the current barriers is not only a moral imperative but a strategic one: we are approaching a crisis in school leadership, with too few teachers aspiring to leadership, and too few senior leaders stepping up to fill the rising number of headship vacancies. We cannot afford for anyone to be disqualified – or disqualify themselves – on the basis of gender, sexuality, race or disability.

"Through our campaign we hope to inspire teachers and leaders from all backgrounds and walks of life to take the next step in their careers "

This is why we are launching our new campaign: Under Construction. We believe we can do better as a system, so we’re working with partners from education, government and business to rebuild a better and fairer education sector.

Through our campaign, we hope to inspire teachers and leaders from all backgrounds and walks of life to take the next step in their careers – supporting the school leadership pipeline and showing their pupils that there is no single ‘type’ of leader. Every child – no matter where they come from – can be a leader, too.

As part of this campaign, we will be:

  • Sharing best practice on how to improve inclusivity in schools
  • Hosting events across the country to meet and discuss solutions
  • Reviewing our marketing and recruitment strategy to ensure we are reaching teachers from all walks of life

There is no single way to be a leader and as an organisation we want to ensure everyone feels empowered and confident to make the journey. It is all too easy to focus on how we are perceived by others; but true leadership means facing those around you and being confident in saying, ‘I am here and I belong’.

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.

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