Headship and diversity

Friday 1st March 2019 was a very interesting day for me.  I travelled to London to speak at a conference on headship and diversity, ‘Breaking the Mould’, organised by HMC.  I enjoyed the keynote, from Lucy Pearson; the panel discussion featuring Jaideep Barot, Alan Bird and Jane Stevens in conversation with Jane Lunnon; a presentation from Michael Stephens of RSAcademics on the role of professional search firms with respect to diversity, and I delivered a workshop on ‘Barriers to headship and strategies for overcoming them’.  Unfortunately I had to leave before the final keynote, from the wonderful Tanni Grey-Thompson, but I comforted myself with the fact that I had heard her speak (brilliantly) at a Women Leading in Education event last year.

In my workshop we considered possible barriers to headship application, or to success in the selection process – the delegates suggested what they might be, rather than me telling them what I thought the issues were – and which of these barriers were beyond their control.  The majority of the barriers they identified were, we decided, WITHIN their control, and we explored how we might address them in order not to be deterred, and to increase chances of success.  We also talked about the importance of networks, personal and professional, to support and sustain you, and I mentioned:

#WomenEd (@WomenEd), #BAMEed (@BAMEedNetwork), #LGBTed (@LGBTedUK) and #disabilityEd (@disability_Ed).

I also talked about how #WomenEd developed, and what it had achieved, including the #WomenEd book: ‘10% braver: Inspiring Women to Lead Education’ (Sage, 2019) which is just out, and to which I have contributed a chapter.  If you are a member of a group which is currently under-represented in headship, whether that is to do with gender, gender fluidity, sexuality, ethnicity or (dis)ability, you can find a tribe which will understand and offer you emotional and practical support.

I had to leave the conference early, because I had been invited to give the after-dinner speech at the Ambition School Leadership all-women NPQH final residential at Loughborough University, so I took a train, a tube, another train and a taxi and arrived in time to meet the group in the bar (I just followed the sound of female laughter…)  They were in high spirits, because one of their number, Gemma Penny, had just, that day, secured her headship.  The fellow-feeling and the sense of camaraderie as everyone in the group shared in the joy were amazing to behold and I felt privileged to share in the moment.

The next post is an abridged version of what I said in the speech, which focussed on ‘Making the leap’ to headship, and advice for aspiring and new heads.  Whatever your personal situation or context, if you have the capacity to take the step to headship, I hope you will not be deterred; that you will face and conquer whatever might hold you back (including, in some cases, that voice in your own head) and take on a role which holds the possibility of joy.

Photo credit: Sally Anne Huang, Head of James Allen’s Girls’ School in London, which hosted the ‘Breaking the Mould’ conference

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