Wednesday 8th March 2023 is International Women’s Day, and this year the theme is #EmbraceEquity.
“The aim of the IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity campaign theme is to get the world talking about Why equal opportunities aren’t enough. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action. Read more about this here.” (IWD website 2023)
I sat down with Ruth Mayes, former Maths Teacher, Headteacher, and member of the AoEA Development Team, to chat about her experience as a female teacher and leader in the 1980s. We initially talked about the Education system in the early 1900s. Ruth told me that, it was only in 1944 that women could continue teaching after being married:
“If you think about women that came into teaching in the 40s, they were the first ones that had the chance to make a full career of teaching”
As a 24-year-old woman, it feels incomprehensible that getting married should mean an end to my career. It is baffling to me that there was a time when this was commonplace.
Ruth started teaching in 1980, just 20 years after the equal pay act was implemented in 1961. A lot of the staff Ruth worked with would have been part of that equal pay campaign, and will have worked in a system where men and women were paid different amounts for doing the same job.
As a maths teacher, Ruth said she was “very much the minority”, that most of the maths teachers in the school were men, and that this was exaggerated when she became subject leader.
I asked Ruth if she felt that this was still a problem – does she still feel that this problem persists?
“It’s changed a lot. Apparently now, 65% of secondary school and 86% of primary school teachers are female.” (according to a DfE report)
Ruth first became a headteacher in 2001, when female leaders in secondary headship were still very much the minority. But this is also changing:
“69% of leadership positions in education are now female, that’s dramatically changed. I’ve seen that during my time as a headteacher and now as an adviser.
“Maybe the impact of those earlier issues that held women back, have gone.”
We talked about the importance of role models, and Ruth told me that she had a Deputy Head that she worked for when she first started teaching.
“Even later in my career, I would reflect on how she had done things. She was definitely a very positive influence in terms of what I learnt from her.”
It’s true, that the more women working in senior positions in education, the more are likely to have the confidence and ambition to do so themselves.
Personally, I feel very lucky to work with Janet, Lauren and Gurdeep, three brilliant women in the AoEA office. As well as Development Team members Ruth and Diane, and AoEA Board members, Kathy, Mary, Narinder, Fiona, Clara, Michele and Felicity, who so far have all had incredible careers in teaching, leadership, and advisory work.
“Equality is the goal, and equity is the means to get there.” (IWD website)