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Point of view: ‘We have a moral obligation to lead the way’

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Ella Tyler explains why the ELT and international education industries are uniquely placed to promote women in leadership.

When I left university in 1993, I really believed that the glass ceiling of my mother’s generation had been shattered.

Women were equal to men in terms of accomplishments, and I was confident that over the next few years the imbalance of women at senior levels in companies would be redressed, leading to a better world for everyone.

What optimism I held in my heart as I stood there at 22 years old, on the verge of my new career path. For a decade I worked in the mainly female world of cosmetics and toiletries marketing, and it appeared to me that my prophecy was being fulfilled.

When I had children I fell into the well-worn pattern of staying at home, raising the children and running the home. Then I returned to work – and I continued carrying the major load of raising the children and running the home.

But I did this unquestioningly. It seemed normal. Every other woman was doing it – working full time and doing the shopping and the cleaning, rolling their eyes indulgently at their hopeless husbands who ‘didn’t know how to use the washing machine’ – and society was certainly encouraging it.

It wasn’t until I was on my way to ICEF Berlin last year and I bought Sheryl Sandbergh’s book – Lean In – that the scales fell away from my eyes.

In it, Sandbergh questions why we have too few women leaders, and brilliantly explains how women must put themselves forward if the gender gap is ever to be closed. It truly inspired me. And during the conference, I met up with two like-minded women – Leanne Linacre, a school owner from LILA and Maria Castro, who owns the agency Linguland. We discussed the current issues facing women in our industry, and indeed society.

We agreed that young women coming through the ranks, that we employed in our businesses, seemed astonishingly short on self confidence, compared to their male counterparts. Why was this? We also noted that although in our industry women heavily outnumber men, when you go further up the ranks, that ratio shifts of course, and it is mainly men who are the school/agency business owners or are sitting on the boards of the major companies. Of course, this is not unique to our industry – it is the same the world over.

But we are in an industry that has a unique opportunity to change people’s perspectives. We are in the business of educating people – and plenty of young people – and we have a global reach. We are in an amazing position to really lead the way in terms of change and best practice. And if you believe, as I do, that one person can change the world, and that the words you use are very powerful, then we have a moral obligation to lead the way as role models. It was this belief that led us to set up Lead5050 – a group which would aim to raise the profile of women in the industry and encourage them into positions of leadership. It’s called 5050 because we believe that we need men to put their voices to this initiative if we are to succeed in achieving gender equality to the benefit of everyone, and we encourage their support.

This is our vision:
1. We believe that women’s empowerment is good for the economy and therefore good for everyone. To succeed, a company needs ALL of its employees to be at the top of their game.
2. We believe that gender equality is not a woman’s issue – but a human issue. Everyone – male or female – has a crucial role to play in calling inequality out.
3. We believe that gender stereotypes are outdated and damaging to both men and women, and that men will benefit just as much from challenging these limiting constraints.
4. We believe in the power of words. And that by promoting discussion around the topic, and putting gender equality at the top of the agenda, we can challenge the status quo and make real tangible changes for the future. In real terms, we will be running events and setting up a mentoring programme that women can access.

And on 28 October we will be holding the inaugural Lead5050 WIE (Women in International Education) Awards at the Hotel Intercontinental in Berlin. It will be a celebration of those who promote our values of support, inspiration and leadership. It promises to be an exciting night for everyone and the beginning, we hope, of something transformative for the ELT industry.

To subscribe to Lead5050’s newsletter go to – http://www.lead5050.com/login/ – to keep abreast of our new mentoring programme and other CPD and networking events due to be held over the next year.

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Ella Tyler is managing director of Mountlands Language School and co-founder of Lead5050.