Calling all female principals: where are you?

The vast majority of our teaching workforce is female, so why are most school principals male?

The latest OECD Teaching and Learning International Study found that Australia has a significantly lower proportion of female principals than men, despite women being the majority of the teaching workforce.

In fact, when it comes to the ratio of women principals to men, Australia ranks dead last. The study showed that while 57% of upper-secondary teachers are women, only 39% of principals are female - the lowest proportion among all countries surveyed.

It begs the question: if the majority of the teaching workforce (and population) are women, why are most school principals men?

After all, it’s not that our female principals aren’t influential.  

In October, Linda O’Brien, principal of Granville Boys High School, was named one of Australia’s 10 most influential women.

“It is a great honour to be recognised as one of the 100 women of influence in 2014, particularly as an educator in a public school,” O’Brien told her audience at the 2014 Australian Financial Review and Westpac Women of Influence awards.

“I believe we do the most important job.”

O’Brien’s excellent work scored her a spot in a prestigious list among other prominent Australian female leaders. She provides an all-too-rare role model for the other female leaders scattered across our nation’s 9,435 schools.

So what are the main factors are behind this significant gender imbalance in school leadership?

NSW Teachers Federation’s Relieving Women’s Coordinator Anna Uren told The Educator that the issue is more complicated than it first appears.

“The gender imbalance is not as simple as saying that discrimination occurs at the point of employment of principals,” Uren said.

“There is a range of factors contributing to the situation. For example, there are barriers which exist along a teacher’s career path, which can affect women in a particular way.”

Uren pointed out that some of these aspiring principals are mothers whose climb up the administrative ladder can often clash with caring responsibilities back at home. 

“The path to promotion can often involve taking on additional responsibilities which require a commitment to significant unpredictable, after hours or weekend work, which can be difficult to manage around additional caring responsibilities.”

When asked if female principals are given the recognition they deserve, Uren referred to principal O’Brien’s success and also other recently recognised leaders.

“Two recent examples show a very high level of recognition, with Dorothy Hoddinott, principal of Holroyd High School, being awarded a Human Rights Medal, and Linda O’Brien, principal of Granville Boys High School, being named as a category winner in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s 100 Women of Influence Award,” Uren said.

Uren said that women who aspire to become school principals should be encouraged by the strategies in place that can help promote them to the top job.

“Just as there are many complex factors contributing to the gender imbalance, there is an equally large number of strategies which could be implemented to promote greater numbers of women into principal positions,” explained Uren.

“Affirmative action is needed at all points along the career path, with careful analysis of leadership capacity building strategies in place in schools to ensure no group is disadvantaged.”

To our readers: Why do you think female principals are lacking in our schools?