‘We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.’
These are the words of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, campaigner for women’s rights and author of Lean In, her book on women, work and leadership. When I read her book last year on the recommendation of a colleague, I felt she could have been talking to me, even about me.
I now understand how common that response is amongst her readership, such is the familiarity of the challenges she describes.
The issue of women’s confidence, contribution and presence in leadership roles across society has come to the fore in recent months in light of global campaigns such as Equal Pay Day.
Talking in the Commons on Wednesday in response to the resignation of the BBC’s China Editor Carrie Gracie in protest at the Corporation’s alleged pay discrimination, the shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson admitted: ‘we still live in a society where confident men tend to rise to the top, while talented women are more easily undervalued or forced out’.
These structural barriers and inequalities need surfacing and tackling, but as women in leadership, we have the agency to take positive action for our own careers. Deficits in self-confidence can hold us back, but women can and do respond to the challenge issued by our partners #WomenEd to be 10% braver in pursuit of our own goals.
Seeking out stretch assignments, embarking on development that takes us well out of our comfort zones and laying ourselves bare in challenging coaching conversations all require a bravery that we sometimes lack.
But the potential rewards are great; we will open ourselves up to the joys and rewards of careers in leadership, eloquently articulated here by Executive Headteacher Helena Marsh, and society as a whole will benefit from our ‘leaning in’.
So what are we doing?
We know that some women need differentiated support when it comes to preparation for headship. In response, we are partnering with WomenEd and Leading Women’s Alliance to ask women 12-18 months away from headship to step out of their comfort zones as part of our women-only Headship Programme with NPQH.
Our programme addresses the issues of particular relevance to women, including navigating gender dynamics; authentic leadership; the importance of role models and networks; and flexible working opportunities such as co-headship.
The deadline for application for the March cohort is quite soon – 28 January – so please do fill in an enquiry form if you’re interested and we’ll be in touch. If you’re interested and won’t be able to make the deadline, please do still get in touch and we’ll see how we can help.