Women have fought for equality in the workplace for years, and despite this year marking fifty years since the Equal Pay Act received Royal Assent in the UK—thereby making unequal pay illegal—the gender pay gap still persists.
I am all for women rising up the ranks in institutions and workplaces that have been male heavy; and we must continue to ensure the gender gap diminishes. But as women, we must also make sure we are rising up the ranks for the right reasons; not because we feel we have to, but because we want to.
In education—my own field—there is an obvious hierarchy; as in any institution. At the top of the educational tree sits the Governors and the Head teacher, followed by the Associate Headteacher, Deputy Headteachers and then the Assistant Headteachers. This group of people are known as the Senior Leader Team.
I sit underneath their main branches, nestling more comfortably in the boughs of Middle Leadership. I am a Head of Faculty, and am quite happy running a busy and thriving Performing Arts department. But I am a bit of a misnomer; because I have been teaching for nearly twenty years now and have not risen higher.
There have been many opportunities for me to become an Assistant Headteacher at other schools, and at my present workplace, but I have decided not to climb the tree.
The job descriptions will go up in the staff room and inevitably by the end of the day, keen applicants will be scoping out who might go for the next vacancy, and where the competition lies.
A casual, “Are you going for this one?” over coffee will always be met by my emphatic, “No!”
And off they will go, relieved that one less person stands in their way to the dizzy heights of Assistant Headship.
However, this last time I was given pause for thought, when a girl said in reply, “As a woman, I don’t understand how you can live with such a lack of ambition.”
I was a bit stunned at this assumption that I was letting womanhood down, and this made me ponder promotion and my feelings towards it.
As a woman, you are meant to be something of a superhero; juggling job, home, and children. More and more, there seems to be an idea, pressure even, made worse by social media, that for a woman to have a successful life, a list needs to be completed.
- House (immaculate!)
- Children (optional)
Once said list is complete, they will be too.
But I am not sure they are right. In fact, I’m pretty certain they’re not.
That’s not to say that on completion of the list above you can’t or won’t be happy. For some, this is the natural path to success in life. But it shouldn’t be seen as compulsory; what’s right for one person may not be right for another.
The girl in question, succeeded in the Assistant Headship, but I’m not sure she succeeded in what my “lack of ambition” has granted me: happiness and fulfilment.
Just because I have worked out that the Middle Leadership branch is the branch that’s good enough for me, doesn’t mean I lack ambition. It means that after years of soul searching, I have recognised what is important to me and what will make me happy.
I am ambitious, but ambition isn’t necessarily measured by job success.
So, although I may only be a Middle Leader, it is important for me and my happiness.
It means I am able to stay in the classroom for thirty hours a week teaching my passion, music; instead of writing polices and attending meetings.
It means I get to perform every day.
It means I see the same pupils in my tutor group and know them inside out, like a little family; which is what I believe teaching is about.
It means I am less stressed and so have time to do the things that are important to me—like starting my own cake business.
It means I get to spend more time with my family.
It means I have more energy; more time to be creative.
It means I am happy.
And it ultimately means I feel fulfilled.
Of course, promotion can be a positive step. And as woman, we should ensure we are pushing boundaries, showing our worth, and demanding our right to be treated equally.
But promotion shouldn’t just be for a title or a checkbox on a list. It needs to be right for you as an individual; and not taking a promotion should never be seen as a failure.
Promotion is only positive if it is going to enhance you as a woman and make you happier and your life more fulfilling.