gender, leadership

Troubling Women

The redirection of my research question has seen me scan some of the literature around leadership, gender and how these tie into notions of identity. I have also looked for a relationship between professional learning and the opportunity for leadership, especially for women.

So I was interested to read the work of Jill Blackmore, an Australian feminist and researcher in education. Her interests lie the idea of leadership and gender. Troubling Women: Feminism, Leadership and Educational Change (1999) offers some clear thinking around these issues and in particular a historical context for some of the developments, challenges and outcomes for women in education.

Her case studies and research data offer some insight into the question of whether  feminists have had some role to play in making women the problem in educational leadership rather than problematising leadership itself. The distinction between leadership and management is made. Women lead differently.

Ozga (1993b:11) suggests that Women’s leadership is less hierarchal, more democratic, created close knit schools,uses less dominant body language, different language and procedures; women appear more flexible, sensitive, successful, they have less desk time and more class visits. Women keep up to date with curriculum,connect with their peers and sponsor other women thus building leadership capacity. Their language is hesitant and tentative, agendas flexible and informal and they emphasise cohesiveness and foster an integrative culture and climate. Whilst these characteristics parallel a softer management discourse it does not mean that there is a homogeneous female leadership. Being female does not mean being feminist. Chantal Mohanty (1992) calls this ‘feminist osmosis thesis’.

For many women entering teaching as a profession was a natural progression and one of the few choices available to them. Blackmore’s text is 15 years old and I would suggest that the catalyst for women to become teachers is now less about natural progression and more about options and opportunity. Younger women are aware of Equal Opportunity and take for granted the opportunity they have to develop leadership in education.

Interestingly, most of the women who take up senior leadership as either a Vice Principal or Principal are single or childless. There remains a culture of masculine leadership in education, whereby the boys club features strongly in network meetings and appointments. It is not surprising then that women who are often juggling the ‘third shift’, balancing work, domestic and home life and cannot entertain the idea of ‘leadership.’ Blackmore cites Walkerdine (1993) who uses the term ‘wimpish femininity’ to describe the women who do not want to be leaders, who do not display the passion or overt political commitment or work. These are the women who are the ‘nine to fourers’ who put family before ambition. However, such discourse does not take into account the harsh reality of women’s life histories about ‘wanting to have a quality life, about waking to acquire the necessary experience and skills, about the need to be encouraged to go for leadership.’ (p. 195)

Blackmore’s work provides some interesting ideas to explore further when defining my research parameters and considering some of the issues and challenges that may emerge from interviewing women in education about leadership, learning and identity.


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