Over the last few months of sharing the stories women face in pursuing a leadership role, several men have reached out to ask me what they can do to more actively support women in this journey.
Given the current state of leadership, particularly in the international school circuit where only around 28-33% of Heads of School are women, the biggest change must come from our male leaders, in particular our white, CIS, male leaders.
Although men have shared with me that they feel they face some similar challenges to women, the reality is that there are so many more layers to being a woman in leadership, that even when the “old boys club” doesn’t welcome you, it’s just one of the many facets women face. As challenging as that may feel, layering on all of the other stereotypes and biases that women must contend with just compounds the issue, over and over again.
So, if you are looking for ways to take action to promote equity in your organization, to support the women you work with, and to change this dynamic, here are a few concrete steps you can start with:
1: Don’t Center Yourself
This is not about how you feel, or what you need, or what you want to do. It’s about listening, providing space for others, and doing the work internally to shift your own mindset and deal with your internal biases. That may make it hard to be “visible” as a white-CIS-male supporting women and people of color. You will do that through your amplification of their voices, and the actions you take, rather than raising your own.
2: Amplify the Voice of Others
As an individual, you can start by amplifying the voices of those that are often unheard. Create space for others who may not have a forum to speak out, or an established audience to listen. Maybe this is giving space in your leaders newsletter to someone who doesn’t normally get an audience, featuring work in a staff meeting, or providing an opportunity for community stakeholders to hear an alternate perspective.
3: Speak Out
Along those lines, when you hear racist or sexist behavior, speak out. Among groups of men, during hiring practices, in meetings, whenever you see this behavior, call it out and clarify that it’s wrong. When men label racist and sexist behavior to other men, it makes a bigger impact that you might imagine. When women share their experiences with you, believe women. Find ways to amplify those voices to a level where action can be taken. Rationally state, again and again, what needs to change to create a more equitable environment.
4: Identify Aspiring Leaders
If there are women you see as potential leaders, give them a metaphorical “tap on the shoulder” to encourage them into leadership. That support from others is what prompted many of the Women Who Lead to start down a leadership pathway. Naming and sharing individual traits that tend towards leadership can be a huge eye opener, especially for women. When you take the time to notice, identify and articulate these traits you are helping women build the confidence they need to take that next step.
5: Do the Work
As a school leader, you can make it a priority to do equity work. You can start by learning on your own, to build your capacity for doing this work with others. You can provide opportunities for professional learning for your staff, your leaders, your extended school community. You can spend time building committees to create policies that are anti bias and antiracist. You can do this work with your board, and the parent community. You may want to hire an expert in this area to facilitate conversations, or you may have members of staff who can lead this work. Make time for it and make it available to everyone.
6: Put Policies in Place
As you build your understanding, and school wide capacity, set up practices that ensure unconscious bias doesn’t play a role in hiring (like blind CVs). Make it a point to hire people from a wider variety of backgrounds. If you look at the school’s website and the leadership team is exclusively white men, let that be a prompt for your thinking about the unconscious bias in your hiring practices. Overall, normalize seeing women, more people of color, more non-native English speakers, more LGBTQI people in leadership positions. Give them a seat at the table.
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, and I am by no means an expert, but all of these solutions were raised time and time again in the Women Who Lead interviews, yet many schools and school leaders are not yet embracing these steps. It is likely that you have someone on your staff right now that has concrete ideas for how your school can move towards equity. Engage with them and take whatever the right first step is for your organization. If you need a community to reach out to, explore our members of Women Who Lead. They have all had to confront these challenges to get to where they are.
Watch our FREE 1-hour self-paced workshop highlighting over 20 stories from the Women Who Lead interviews. Available right now.