400 women leaders, 30 networks, 19 countries and one weekend. On 2-4th October 2020, WomenEd held its first global unconference, a shining example of a positive development in Covid-19 times!
What is WomenEd?
WomenEd is a not-for-profit grassroots movement supporting aspiring and existing women leaders in education. WomenEd started in 2015: 7 female education leaders were frustrated with data suggesting 1700 female headteachers were needed in England to represent the proportion of female teachers (The Future Leaders Trust, 2015). Gender Pay Gap data also emerged which shocked us. Education Data Lab, 2015)
Galvanised by this inequity, 7 of us organised an unconference for 200 women leaders in education as we wanted to tackle this lack of representation. WomenEd was born and was all achieved by social media, particularly Twitter.
We have grown beyond anything we ever imagined to be a global community, with 30 networks led by amazing volunteers. Our latest Unconference 6 was online, covered a weekend to accommodate time zones and was truly global with contributions from Canada to Australia via the UK, Europe, and the Middle East.
What’s an unconference?
We originally decided on an ‘unconference’ format to enable participation in ways ranging from keynotes, workshops to leading discussion groups of varying sizes. This format facilitates our approach of supporting one another rather than leading as experts and it’s a format that we have retained. In our face-to-face events, we start and finish with everyone together to build our community and we did so again for our first virtual unconference.
What was the unconference about?
Our events are always about connecting, supporting and empowering women to lead education. We structured our global unconference around our 4 campaigns.
We’ll give you a flavour of the discussions! Parm Plummer (Jersey) hosted a panel discussion on increasing the diversity of women in leadership. Research indicated how stark this issue was: DfE figures of 2018 highlighted that 97.1% of Male and 96.4% of female HTs were white. In 2020, these figures haven’t really shifted: 92.9% of all headteachers and 98% of MAT leaders are white (schoolsweek, 2020). We agreed systemic issues prevent the promotion of BAME teachers into leadership positions, as well as unconscious bias. More radical steps are needed. ‘The rallying cry of action was clear- at all levels, we should all be taking action.’ (Plummer, 2020).
Through regional networks the amplification of diverse voices is necessary to drive recognition of these colleagues. At national levels, we should encourage debate and change through organisations who can effect and lobby for change such as the Chartered College of Teaching in the UK. We agreed that only through such clear and vocal action and through allyship by drawing their voices into meetings, promoting their work and acting as mentors, will we see change happen. The number of diverse voices heard over the weekend was a powerful statement of what is possible.
Lisa Hannay (Canada) called for all women to stand up for other women who may have not yet found their voices or places at the table. Since that weekend she has connected with women leaders from Saskatchewan, Ontario, and British Columbia, Canada. These women had participated in the event or followed the sessions on Twitter and felt a calling to bring WomenEd values and campaigns to their region:
‘These women will look to create access and opportunity for Black leaders, Indigenous leaders, Asian leaders, and all women leaders who have fought to have their voices included. These women will change their corners of the world one step at a time.’ (Hannay, 2020)
Vivienne Porritt (England) chaired our panel on the gender pay gap, looking at practical ways to achieve change. She’s on a mission to remove the application form box asking for your previous salary. Why is that needed? It hasn’t got anything to do with the person specification! And we had a result; one trust has done exactly that.
Will you join us in making this simple change as well?
Two other panels explored flexible working practices and how to increase the numbers of all women leaders in education. In addition, over 60 women shared their stories and learning. Gender equity has been driven backwards by the pandemic so it’s essential that we in education look closely at how we support women to be leaders.
Here are examples of the impact of the unconference:
Our 31st network, Malaysia, is ready to launch and we’re in initial discussion with Portugal, Vietnam, India, Hong Kong and Ethiopia.
We’re partners with The National College of Education in a Leadership Masters/Apprenticeship: the first all-women cohort launched this term.
We’re looking forward to the publication of our 2nd book, Being 10%braver, on December 19th and hope this is on your Christmas list: you can pre-order now.
We would love more women to connect with us and for more male leaders to join our growing allies. Our website tells you more so connect with your local network and with a global community of diverse educators.
Vivienne Porritt, Parm Plummer, Lisa Hannay
Global Strategic Leaders of #WomenEd