New Zealand: Trade union promotes women's leadership in the education sector

published 4 March 2021 updated 26 March 2021

Women’s leadership in the education sector was the focus of the Women in Leadership Summit organised in New Zealand by the Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA).

This was the union’s first Women in Leadership Summit. Held in Wellington in October 2020, the two-day summit discussed how to move to more inclusive, power- and load-sharing models of leadership.

The summit was “a unique part of the global movement of women breaking down barriers”, said PPTA president Melanie Webber. “What we do here will shape what happens in schools over the next years and decades ... Your involvement is critical if we are to reach our aspiration of equity, equality, and an education system that works for every teacher and every child.”

Embracing female leadership

The summit enabled around 70 women leaders to address the important issues of cultivating and embracing female leadership and recognising the benefits women bring into the school system.

Group discussions tackled issues such as unconscious gender bias, particularly in schools that have not previously included female leadership. Lifting the veil on ‘imposter syndrome’ – referring to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be – brought about heightened debate and ideas.

Thought-provoking workshops were also organised, focusing on women supporting each other, a leadership culture that works for women, recognising women's skills and abilities, and system change.

Participants were challenged about their understanding and preconceived ideas about what a leader might look like and what leadership really is.

Report highlights barriers, supports, and enablers

In the lead-up to the summit, PPTA commissioned the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) to conduct research into the literature on barriers and supports for women to succeed in secondary school leadership. This research will help to shape the association's future work to address gender-based inequities.

The research study sought to answer these questions:

  • The current state: What do we know about women in secondary school leadership and their pathways to and through positional leadership roles?
  • Barriers: What are the barriers to women being in positional leadership roles in secondary schools? Why do women comprise 63 per cent of the secondary teaching workforce, but only 37 per cent of secondary school principals?
  • Supports and enablers: What policies and practices have been identified to better support women's pathways into and through positional leadership roles in secondary schools?

Chief researcher Cathy Wylie said the research highlighted the lack of good information about how many women are in leadership roles in secondary schools: “Other gaps in our knowledge are the experience of wāhine Māori and Pacific women. It is really good to hear that the PPTA is planning more work in this area.

“We would like to see this research picked up by the education agencies to galvanise action to improve gender equity in secondary school leadership,” she added.

The “Women becoming secondary school leaders: Barriers, supports, and enablers” report is available here