Susie Fernandez-Gomez portrait

Written by Susie Fernandez-Gomez

Med in Educational Leadership, Head of MFL and SLE

There are studies concluding that race and gender may interact to shape different dimensions of women’s employment experiences. Therefore, understanding the interlocking system of intersections is key to addressing diversity challenges in education. The theory of intersectionality articulates a framework which can help address the challenges that minority women face with regard to their identities and their experiences. When race and gender act as a barrier, minority women in leadership positions may face specific challenges which are often unmet by others.

 I am one of those women. What some would class as the ‘too different type’ of leader.

According to research, women have developed values and beliefs that translate into specific behaviours. Women are considered to socialise to show feelings, compassion, patience and intuition. This has led to a judgement that all women need to showcase these attributes in order to become effective leaders. One could argue that this list of values and skills would be ideal if it wasn’t for the fact they have actually become barriers which women have to overcome to become leaders.

 I am one of those women. What some would class as the ‘soft type’ of leader.

On the other hand when women display attributes such as strength in character, being passionate about their own views, the ability to ask difficult questions or relentlessly having high aspirations from their followers as well as their own leaders, frustratingly, there is still a tendency to class these women as difficult and scary.

 I am one of those women. What some would class as the ‘hard type’ of leader.

At this point you are probably wondering:

 How can she claim to have all these attributes at once?

 I will answer your question by posing another: 

How could anyone become a leader and not be a mixture of all those attributes? 

Surely if you offer different views, can support and empathise with your  followers at the same time as showing the strength needed to lead them and challenge the establishment, would that not make you a true leader that can connect pretty much with any type of follower? 

It would seem not…

I have faced great challenges when attempting to reach senior leadership positions. In particular, I believe that cultural variations exist in terms of expectations of leaders. Kuckhohn (1951) defines culture as a pattern or way of thinking, feeling and reacting in specific situations. Culture signifies values, ideas and symbols. Leadership expression may therefore vary based on the values, practices and symbols followed by individuals within a society. Societies may support either masculine or feminine values. Societies like the UK which support feminine values are found to balance masculine traits like aggression along with feminine traits like cooperation and collaboration. When leaders from different cultures co-exist, it can lead to potential challenges regarding how a leader should behave. 

I am one of those leaders who happens to be culturally different. That combined with being a woman that shows ‘soft’ attributes as well as ‘hard’ characteristics, which only male leaders are praised for, makes me a bit too weird, I suppose… 

The truth is that many women, just like me, who attempt to reach senior leadership positions will need to balance potential biases from various levels. One such bias is expectations of specific qualifications and extensive experience, especially among those of different racial origin. The average white British male aspiring leader already has the most valued qualification desired for senior leadership that there is: the nationality and the gender. In regards to experience, as long as he can show potential, the box would have been ticked. Why not apply for the job, hey?

I am one of those leaders who is not British nor male so my lists of qualifications and proven experience do have to be quite extensive, indeed. Why would I dare applying for the job, really?

I have often felt that my non-Britishness has been a factor which has led to such lack of opportunities. 

Diversity is key to education leadership, as the intersection of different characteristics may highlight some systemic challenges faced by leaders. Awareness and alertness exhibited during communications, along with insight into the rules, practices and conventions to be followed in various settings, are often more evident when there is diversity in leadership.

Moreover, diverse leaders may respect the cultural differences of their teachers and remain well-informed about the various cultures. Therefore, a diverse leader may define the roles and responsibilities of the members while acknowledging differences in expectations. Communication management and trust are important factors which support success in institutions that have diversity in their leadership positions.

Time has come for schools to understand the benefits of diversity leadership. Diversity in leadership is key as it can enhance a wide range of views and opinions. It has also been argued that such different perspectives can help in problem solving. By supporting diversity in leadership, it is possible to improve self-efficacy, resilience and self-management. Research has also identified that by enhancing trust-based accountability rather than test-based accountability, it is possible to enhance the quality of outcomes. 

Women leaders are considered to establish better morale and therefore are able to achieve better results. A preference for diverse women leaders can help achieve such trust-based accountability. Diverse women leaders are considered to provide better support for employees. This can in turn mean that teachers are provided with independence, agency, and an ethical and righteous purpose, along with a trust-based accountability system.

I am one of those leaders whose team respect and love in equal measures, I can proudly say.

The key component to development of leadership is by establishing an identity as a leader. However, for the female leaders, it has been argued that the failure to include the discussion of the identity and the gender identity especially related to the leadership identity development can lead to additional challenges.  The failure to discuss the issues with gender identity and its effect on the identity and the leadership can be essential to understanding credibility in a culture that is deeply impacted by the external environment. 

Through the entire process of leadership identity development, the female leaders may be asked to prove their credibility as a leader. As a diverse female leader, at various junctures of my career I have been asked to mellow down my ‘Mediterranean’ ways. 

I am one of those leaders who has said NO. This is who I am and I will stand united with many other diverse female leaders out there who, I am sure, have some stories to tell about their own tough journey.