Women in Leadership – Part 2

Proposals on how we can confront the issues brought up by the course Women and Leadership summarised in Part 1 focused on the personal challenges that women face and what women can do about these to maximise their options of getting those top jobs and opportunities for development. The course did not go into any great depth on how the first two barriers (organisational and interpersonal) can be tackled, presumably because they are issues that require far-reaching cultural, organisational and societal change.

It did focus though, on the importance of building women’s self-confidence and on improving women’s negotiation skills.


Women in general have a lot less self-confidence than men and as a result put themselves forward for jobs and promotion proportionately less than men with the equivalent experience and qualifications. Confidence, though, does matter and affects the way people assess our competence in our current job or potential for a new job. A confident, not outstandingly competent person is more likely to get a job in higher management and leadership than an extremely competent not very confident person.

Unfortunately the flipside of this is that confidence in women tends to be considered unfeminine or undesirable by many men although necessary for somebody in a leadership position.

Self-confidence is related to four pillars and according to this course women need to learn to develop all four:

  • Authenticity: this refers to being true to your beliefs and to who you are
  • Self-efficacy: this is about the belief in your ability to sort out problems
  • Adaptability: this refers to the importance of being resourceful
  • Persistence: this is about the determination to persevere in whatever we do

In addition to this is the importance of developing a voice, in other words, the ability to say what needs to be said in a way that is heard. Women in general are “listened to” a lot less than men.

Negotiating skills

Men are four times more likely to negotiate than women and are more likely to get what they want and not be criticised for negotiating.

The course recommends that women need to learn to reframe negotiations as interest-based discussions which aim to find a win-win solution (the organisation gains as well as the person negotiating). In order to make these negotiations more effective it is important to:

  • know your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) and the BATNA of the person you are negotiating with
  • balance empathy and assertiveness when negotiating
  • understand the role of your emotions in negotiations and learn to manage them
  • learn to negotiate from your authentic best strengths (rather than trying to imitate somebody else’s strengths)

I know a lot of very competent women in LTOs who are lacking in self-confidence and are not recognised enough for what they do. These women want to believe that they will be recognised because they are good at their jobs. Unfortunately, they can end up being bitterly disappointed and slightly resentful when this does not happen. Whether we like it or not we continue to live in a male-dominated world whether and the unspoken rules about how to get promoted and recognised are set by men. However unfair it may seem, women have to learn to play by them to a certain extent. Women need to develop the confidence and the negotiating skills which will enable them to sell themselves in this male-dominated world and get those positions and opportunities that they deserve.

I’d like to end this post in the same way as the course ended by emphasising that “success” is a subjective word and what counts is not what everybody else thinks success is but your personal definition of success. It was suggested that each women should complete the following three sentences:

To me success means ….

To achieve success, I need to ….

As a successful woman, I …..


Women in Leadership – Part 1

I watched from afar the discussion created around Nicola Prentis’ and Russell Payne’s talk at IATEFL 2015 and was deeply saddened by some of the responses to Nicola. While I choose not to take part in that particular debate, the response to their talk made evident that unfortunately gender discrimination is present in the LTO (Language Teaching Organisation) world.  While we might choose to believe that these remarks were made by isolated individuals, an accumulation of these seemingly low-impact attitudes accrue and create serious issues. Mountains after all are made from molehills.

It was with a certain amount of curiosity and apprehension that I started a MOOC on Women in leadership: Inspiring Positive Change. I had never considered myself a victim of sexual discrimination.  I also believe that I deserve to be where I am today. What’s more, I also recognise that at least two of my most significant professional development opportunities in my career in the teaching English as a foreign language industry were instigated and supported by two men.

On reflection though, thinking back to the all the LTOs where I have worked, all the directors of these organisations have always been men and this gives me food for thought.

The following is a summary of the most important issues that were addressed about women and leadership on this course. I am summarising the points here in two posts, the first post covers the context and the second possible courses of action. I think it is useful for both LTOs and individuals of both sexes working in the English Language teaching field to stop and reflect on the issues. I think we need to question whether sexual discrimination exists in LTOs and if it does, what we can do to address it. The following points do not necessarily reflect my personal opinions.


Across all fields the proportion of men to women in jobs is much larger the higher up the responsibility ladder we go. There is more or less parity between women and men with regard to conditions and opportunities at the teaching and middle management level (DoS) but for positions above middle management the proportion of women to men drops substantially. I don’t have data about the LTO specifically but the following is data on the education sector in general in the United States: US Education women Source: Catalyst 2011, AACSB 2012, AAMC 2012

Why is this?

The course explained that there are three types of barriers to women advancing professionally above middle management:

Organisational barriers

  1. Research shows that most people are more comfortable working with people of the same sex. And given that there are more men in positions of power, these men have a tendency to recruit more men to work with them.
  2. Most organisations do not have development policies targeted at women and as traditionally they were targeted at men, it is more difficult for women to access these opportunities.
  3. In general higher standards of performance and effort are demanded from women than men.

Interpersonal barriers

  1. Expectations about how men and women should behave at work are different. It is acceptable for men to be outspoken, to put themselves forward and to negotiate better conditions and promotion. Women, on the other hand, who behave in similar ways are perceived as being aggressive, ambitious and unfeminine. These biases are usually not conscious biases and are known as second generation gender bias. They are the result of ingrained beliefs about the role of women and men at work.
  2. Many women are excluded from informal networks which are dominated by men where a lot of business and networking takes place.
  3. Due to the lack women in key leadership positions, there is also a lack of mentors for women to refer to and use as role models.

Personal challenges

  1. Many women face challenges related to balancing home life and work commitments and while this is also true for some men, the number of men who face these challenges is still very small.
  2. In general women have a lot less confidence in themselves than men. Apparently in general men will apply for a job when they are 60% qualified or experienced for it while women will only apply for a job when they feel 100% qualified and experienced.
  3. Women tend to negotiate less frequently and in a different way to men. In a male-dominated world they are therefore at a disadvantage and are less likely to negotiate successfully than men are. It is generally acceptable for men to negotiate frequently and assertively. Women, on the other hand, tend to want to be recognised for their merits, they negotiate less and not are less likely to achieve what they want than men.

It is widely recognised that a balance of women and men in top positions in any organisation creates a much more successful organisation than one dominated or run solely by men or women. However, despite knowing this, the vast majority of organisations are lead and run by men. It is unlikely that the current imbalance will be changed unless action is taken by these organisations (in our case LTOs). They need to reflect on their current practices; become much more transparent in terms of opportunities, salaries, and development policies; and try to actively redress the imbalance.

See post 2 for examples of what women can do about this.