Here at Nottingham Girls’ High School we not only pride ourselves on leading through education, but we also aim to lead by example. Our older girls are of course role models for the younger ones, but we hope our staff can also be role models too, particularly when it comes to leadership.
Our Senior Leadership Team is young and vibrant with women in key roles, which is great for our girls and parents to see. It gives a positive message and that’s what we’re about – empowering girls to believe in themselves and believe that positions of power are there for the taking.
As ever, this gives rise to the age old debate about the work/life balance faced particularly by women hoping to start or expand a family, and this is something we are acutely aware of as two members of our Senior Leadership Team are due to go on maternity leave in the next few months! Rebecca Halse is our Assistant Head for Curriculum and Assessment, and Lindsay Wharton-Howett is Assistant Head for Teaching and Learning. Both are also teachers so are obviously incredibly busy people with key roles to play in the school. But both are also keen to stress that contrary to what many people think, you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to choose between a career and motherhood; if this was the case it would prevent 50% of the population from taking up positions of leadership.
This is a topical debate in the news currently, with New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, recently announcing her pregnancy and her intention to maintain her position of leadership. And it’s one that I’ve already touched upon in my recent article in the tes about empowering female leaders. I strongly advocate teaching that is free from stereotypes and I’m really excited about the fact that there is a new women-only headship programme available; this is real progress in getting women into those top slots. Our school is modern, progressive and inclusive, and I absolutely encourage any members of staff to return to work after maternity leave if they wish to do so, enabling them to keep climbing the leadership ladder.
Lindsay and Rebecca are already role models for the girls they teach, combining their positions of responsibility and influence with their commitment to their own family lives. Lindsay already has one child and is successfully balancing her home life and her work at school, and both are looking forward to comparing notes in the near future, joining the many parents who are also ‘wearing two hats’ in society, with our full support.
Both of them state that, “Working in an organisation that has positive family values, where combining family life and work life is so supported, has been a huge advantage to us. There would be more women in leadership if other organisations were also this supportive.” They still recognise however, that it is a challenge to combine home and leadership, but it’s a joint challenge, not just the woman’s responsibility; both parents should be prepared to make sacrifices if needed.
American technology executive, Sheryl Sandberg, refers to instances where women actually turn down their ‘place at the table’ in favour of having a family, but Lindsay and Rebecca want their message to our girls to be that you CAN be a mother and still ‘take your place’ – don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
So with that in mind, I wish both of them well for their forthcoming parenthood adventures. I know that the girls do look up to them as positive role models and will be as excited to hear their baby news as they will be to see them both return to school later. In the right environment and with the right support, it IS possible to juggle home and family life with the demands of a meaningful and inspirational job; something that our girls should take note of.