A critical mass of women will come into management positions only when there are enough role models to inspire them, writes Irena Barker.
I was up a windswept hill in the driving rain with my three young children when I first shouted the word ‘idiot’ at one of them. My middle child was standing at a 45 degree angle in the howling wind atop a vast cairn with his raincoat wide open. He was rummaging in his bag for a KitKat.
‘What do you think you are doing, you idiot?’ I yelled, beckoning frantically to him to come further down to a more sheltered spot. ‘Looking for my KitKat!’ he called, his voice trailing away with the wind.
From that day forth, my children have felt that it is completely acceptable to yell ‘idiot!’ at any opportunity. It does not matter how many times I tell them it is rude and not an acceptable form of address, it is now their FAVOURITE word. Of course, this was a solid lesson in how poor role-modelling can wreck everything a parent has worked for. They will almost always copy what you do, but almost never listen to you (unless you are swearing or yelling ‘idiot’). But imagine what good role models can achieve if poor ones can be this effective.
On our comment section, Ella Tyler says ELT and international education have a ‘moral obligation’ to lead the way in encouraging women to push forward in their careers and become managers and decision makers in the industry. And she’s absolutely right.
Through her organisation Lead5050, she and colleagues are providing excellent role models of strong confident women in leadership. But we need more.
It is easy to talk a good game about promoting women but things will only change when women coming through the ranks can see numerous other women who have succeeded – without paying a price.
For more role models to emerge, schools and other employers need to walk-the-walk and develop a culture that allows women and men to excel alongside each other. No amount of words and female empowerment internet memes are going to achieve this. It is down to individuals in their everyday actions.
An important aspect of this culture change is for people to ignore stereotypes.
Don’t underestimate the motivation of a working mother, for example. Do not presume she wants to ‘take it easy’ or miss out on that foreign trip. Allow people to do things ‘their way’ if it is effective. Don’t let the phrase ‘job share’ bring you out in a rash. Talk to women about their needs – and, above all, what they have to offer. It may be simpler to promote a mediocre childless man, but a busy woman with a family to worry about might actually turn out to be the better appointment.
Try it and see. You’d be an idiot not to.