Women dominate the FE workforce, but only 41 per cent of principals are women – and even fewer chair governing bodies. The Women’s Leadership Network is determined this will change, as Eleanor Radford reports

How more women can make it to the top in FE topped the agenda at a recent Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) conference in London.

Navy commander Polly Hatchard, entrepreneur Julie Meyer, and East Berkshire College principal Kate Webb told the more than 100 delegates the stories of their careers, while encouraging women to break through the glass ceiling in a profession in which they outnumber their male counterparts – except as principals and chairs.

A WLN report, Narrowing the Gap, was also launched at the Hallam Conference Centre event.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock welcomed the research, which maps the steady increase of women principals over the past five years.

“FE has something to teach the rest of the economy,” he said.

“In FE there is a workforce that’s predominantly female – around two thirds – but just 41 per cent of college principals are women, and female chairs are less than a quarter. The system has a lot of advantages over the rest of the economy, but still has some way to go.”

He said the “best” boards and groups of problem-solvers were “normally the most diverse”.

“Evidence shows that diversity adds value to decisions. There is no greater determinant to the way we behave as individuals as our genders, but we too realise that there are fewer women in ministerial positions than there ought to be.”

From left: Entrepreneur Juli Meyer, Naval commander Polly Hatchard and Network Chair Sally Dicketts

He said flexible parental leave shared by men and women needed to become the “cultural norm” as it had less impact on a woman’s career.

“If it becomes normal that both take time off, that will go some way to changing the culture.”

He said the government would add the network’s research to the ongoing Review of Governance in FE, due next month. This would help “make sure the award for opportunity was equal” and that “progression for all” was available.

“As a result of this we will make sure we have more women in senior posts in FE. I’m committed to your goals, giving every woman the chance to reach her potential,” he added.

“Together, we can get there.”

Sally Dicketts, the network’s chair and principal of Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, announced that Marie-Thérèse McGivern, principal of Belfast Metropolitan College, as the winner of this year’s Inspiring Leader Award. She was presented a glass trophy by Professor Daniel Khan, chief executive of OCN London, which sponsored the award.

Mrs Dicketts said: “Since her appointment . . . Marie-Thérèse has provided inspirational leadership, steering the college through a turbulent period, leading significant change and successfully implementing a three-year improvement plan that involved major organisational restructuring, extensive change and progress in the college’s performance.

“Those who work with Marie-Thérèse say that her ability to galvanise support . . . has been critical. I believe she is an authentic leader and a very deserving winner of this year’s award.”

Ms McGivern said: “I have always been passionate about gender equality, and have benefited from positive role models and mentors over the course of my career.  Awards such as this from the WLN raise awareness of the need to encourage more women into leadership roles and, once there, the need to inspire and motivate other women to join them.”

Professor Daniel Khan presents Marie-Thérèse McGivern with her award

Featured image caption: Skills Minister Matthew Hancock addresses delegates


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