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Almost 1 in 2 women teachers experience discrimination at their school

Important survey points to widespread biases, boys club culture and bullying.

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Almost 1 in 2 women teachers experience discrimination at their school​

Important survey points to widespread biases, boys club culture and bullying.

Almost one in two women teachers in Australian schools have experienced some kind of barrier or discrimination throughout their careers, according to a new survey administered by the National Excellence in School Leadership Initiative (NESLI). 

The 2018 Australian Schools Gender Survey is believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, and points to consistent patterns of severe bias in hiring practices, salaries and professional development plans, a boys club culture in some schools and behavioural prejudices against women leaders within the education sector. 

When asked ‘As a woman, have you ever experienced barriers or discrimination within a school (can be your current or former school)?’, 46% said yes, 39% said no and 15% were unsure. 

Respondents were asked to specify what kind of barriers or discrimination they most commonly faced. They reported that women in schools are often undermined in meetings and do not get the same promotional opportunities (especially when of childbearing age), and that women leaders are sometimes seen as weak and ineffective, especially when working in boys schools.  

Interestingly, survey respondents reported that these prejudicial behaviours and attitudes don’t only come from within the internal ranks of the school. Parents (particularly fathers) exhibit the same predispositions, whether it’s their preference for speaking with a male member of staff, bullying from male parents on a school council who did not recognise that a women leader was capable of understanding the finances of a school, or just a general perception from parents that women aren't as 'strong' as men and that males are better principals.    Dr Janet Smith, Leader of NESLI’s 2018 Year of Women in School Leadership, has said she finds these results extremely disappointing and problematic. She commented that, “It is totally unacceptable that in 2018, nearly half of the women teachers who were surveyed have reported experiencing some form of disadvantage or discrimination because of their gender.”

The ‘Education and Training’ sector is officially ‘female-dominated’, with 70.6% of the workforce being women, finds the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Since 1995, this is an increase of 5.2%, when females made up 65.4% of industry employees. 

However, the picture is much starker when looking at the participation of women in leadership roles – particularly for schools. The Staff in Australia's Schools survey found that 80% and 58.4% of Australia’s primary and secondary school teachers are female respectively, yet only 57.5% and 41.7% of principals in each of those sectors are female. 

Respondents were also asked what they think would be most helpful or supportive in addressing this issue. The most common sentiments included better support from colleagues, mentoring schemes/arrangements, leadership training and professional development and being offered more opportunities to progress. 

Other ideas included allowing women to work flexibly in leadership roles and not being penalised for taking maternity leave, identification of institutionalised sexism and gender discrimination and an action plan to remedy, and developing a strong reciprocal network of female trusted leaders. 

Fortunately, a more positive response was achieved when NESLI asked the survey respondents to rate their current level of personal wellbeing at work. The most common responses were ‘Good’ (46.7%), ‘Fair’ (27.31%) and ‘Excellent’ (20.7%). Only 1 in 20 respondents said that their level of wellbeing was either ‘Poor’ or ‘Very Poor’ (5.29%).    

The survey was launched by NESLI as part of their 2018 Year of Women in School Leadership. The 12 month period includes a range of research activities, events and development programs to address the problems highlighted in the 2018 Australian Schools Gender Survey.  

The results of the survey will be discussed further at the forthcoming Australian Schools Women’s Leadership Summit in Sydney on 18th April.

“The results of this survey have further strengthened NESLI’s commitment to this issue,” Dr Smith said. “We look forward to working with women teachers and school leaders throughout 2018, to support and inspire them and to help reduce the challenges and barriers they face.”

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