October 5, 2016

Feminist leadership: What is it? Who does it?

Kay Fuller

At the first #WomenEd Unconference held in London, in October 2015, I led a workshop on feminist leadership.

Having planned the session meticulously to include opportunities for personal reflection, group talk and sharing, I abandoned the ‘lesson plan’ in favour of women’s conversation about the realities of doing leadership.

Jill Blackmore’s (1989) feminist critique and reconstruction of educational leadership might have informed their discussions, but the women (teachers, headteachers and academics) were not constrained by the prompts I provided –

  • A view of power as multidimensional and multidirectional
  • Leadership practised in different contexts by different people not merely equated to formal roles
  • Leadership to empower rather than to control others
  • A relational view of morality in which moral practice is rational within given contexts and social and political relations and not according to abstract moral laws or principles
  • Leadership concerned with communitarian and collective activities and values (adapted from Blackmore, 1989, p. 93).

I have used this framework in Gender, Identity and Educational Leadership (Bloomsbury, 2013) to show that not all women engage in feminist leadership and that some men do!

The women reached some consensus that feminist leadership is about equality and about the education of girls. On this occasion, their talk also revealed discrimination remains in the workplace, particularly for younger women who are still asked at job interviews or during the promotions process whether they are planning families.

One example of everyday sexism http://everydaysexism.com occurred during that session. The one male in the room interrupted the session to tell us about the twitter status of the Unconference. Clearly he missed the point – of the session, the Unconference and of the need for the #WomenEd network for women working in educational leadership. The symbolic violence of his interruption was not lost on us.

Next Saturday, October 8th 2016, I will lead the workshop Feminist Leadership II at the Unconference in Reading. I hope to pick up the conversation with another group of women by focusing on Margaret Grogan and Charol Shakeshaft’s five ways women lead.

I wonder what women will tell me this time about their experiences of leading in education…


Kay Fuller is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership.