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Our CEO Louise Cooper talks about the need for female representation on school governing boards, why we’re supporting the We Are Future Leaders conference, and how school governance can equip women with tangible skills to take back to the workplace.

Getting women on boards is important, which is why we’re supporting the We Are Future Leaders conference. The conference aims to empower women in the workplace and gives women below director level, who want to prepare for promotion, tangible skills to take back to the workplace.

Diversity on governing boards improves decision making. So while female representation on school governing boards is a great approach for developing leadership abilities, it’s also vital for children’s education.

But given the professional benefits of school governance, we need to do more to encourage women to get on board. Governance has a real role to play in encouraging women to take the steps into senior leadership roles through exposure to board-level decision making. In the role, they’ll develop the confidence to both support and challenge a senior figure in their working life.

The NGA/TES 2018 survey showed a female governor population of 61% – a higher percentage than many other board roles. But this figure drops to 42% when it comes to Chairs of MATs, which is more reflective of the number of women in senior leadership positions across other sectors. It’s a well-known fact that the higher up the professional ladder you go, the less women you find – which, as the figures show, is also true within governance.

So how can school governance help close this gap?

  • Making the personal and professional benefits known

Volunteering as a school governor delivers both personal and professional benefits. Gaining board-level experience is valuable – but for those in the early or mid-point of their career, it isn’t always an option within their day job.

  • Continuing professional development during career breaks

While shared parental leave is on the rise and more women are returning to work after having children, for many families, having one parent stay home makes the most financial sense. Often, it’s women taking on this role, sometimes at the expense of their own career – but being a school governor gives women the opportunity to keep active in their field during their time away from work.

  • Highlighting the importance of female representation

Governing boards rely on different opinions to challenge the status quo and make robust decisions. Female representation is needed to help the board make decisions that positively affect children.

Sarah Howard MBE, Vice Chair British Chambers of Commerce and a school governor, said: ‘We need more women on governing boards both to improve representation, but also to encourage women to take the next steps in the workplace. School governors question and challenge data and the status quo to make sure schools give children the best possible education – and the confidence you gain by doing so is a valuable skill in any role. Often, it’s women more so than men that lack the confidence to make the next step in their careers, but joining a school governing board is a great way to gain the tangible skills such as debating, problem-solving and negotiation leaders need.’

How we’re helping get more women into leadership positions

Talking about the lack of female representation at the top is important – and it’s great to see that it’s something we’re having more meaningful discussions about. But we also need action. The focus of the We Are Future Leaders, is about equipping women with the skills – and the confidence – to take back to the workplace.

This is a cause we believe in. We’ll be at the conference talking to women about the opportunity school governance brings in gaining the skills needed to move up the career ladder. While we’re seeing change, more needs to be done to encourage women to stride into and feel able to reach positions of senior leadership.

In governor meetings, everyone’s opinion is valid. Tanya, a governor at a school in Croydon, said ‘The best thing about being a governor is that I actually get a say, and my say is listened to, it’s noted, and that’s refreshing.’ If we can get women to see that this is normal, and that their opinions are not only valid, but vital, will this confidence trickle through to the workplace? I certainly hope so – and we’ll continue to make sure this becomes a reality by encouraging women to maximise their chances of reaching senior positions by gaining board-level experience as school governors.