The theme of the recent International Women’s Day was Inspiring Change, yet with the overwhelming majority of teachers and headteachers being female (73 and 65 per cent respectively, according to the Department for Education), compared to just 17 per cent of senior positions in the private sector, it looks as though teachers are already winning the battle for gender equality. But, does inequality still exist in this female-dominated profession?
Worryingly, there is a significant disparity in teachers’ salaries, with International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) revealing a 22 per cent pay gap between the sexes in the education sector. The average UK teacher’s salary in 2013 was £31,868, which means that some female teachers are earning a staggering £7,000 less than their male colleagues.
So why are men being paid more than women for doing the same job in a profession which is predominantly female?
One often cited reason is that life changes that affect women, such as taking maternity leave, which requires considerable time away from work, or being responsible for childcare, can have a negative impact on their career. Our data shows that while men and women struggle with life transitions in equal measure, 90 per cent of calls to our support line about care of their own children last year came from women.
The figures seem to reflect readjusting at work as an issue. Last year there were more than 500 calls from women struggling to adjust at work, compared to 146 calls from men in the same period.
Another issue often quoted as a cause for disparity in pay is a lack of confidence in stepping up to senior roles. Although more than half of full and part-time headteachers are women, last year the support line received five times as many calls from women who were suffering from performance anxiety than men.
Conflict with management is a further reason given by teachers as to why they lack confidence at work, with 80 per cent of calls made by women. This, in addition to acute performance anxiety and difficulty saying no at work (294 women reported finding it hard to say no at work, compared to just 82 men), shows that female leaders are in need of more support.
This lack of confidence and potential discord with management can result in female teachers feeling as though they are spreading themselves too thinly, having to juggle the demands of a heavy workload, a leadership role and their home life. In turn, this can lead to stress and anxiety, evidenced by the 246 cases of stress reported to the support line by women over the past year (versus 64 cases from men).
So how do we address this inequality? For a start, we need to see stronger guidelines from government to make sure that teachers are paid fairly and based on merit, regardless of gender. Processes need to be put in place to help teachers on the transition back to work after life events such as maternity leave to give them the necessary guidance to help them get used to work again.
While conflict is unavoidable, women at all levels in teaching need to be given holistic support to increase their confidence so that they can manage leadership roles and resolve conflict quickly and efficiently. All of this needs to be underpinned by the creation of a positive and supportive working environment so that teachers can continue to inspire and lead their schools to success.
International Women’s Day may have been centred on inspiring change, but we need to make change happen. Unless we see real progress to make women feel equal to men in terms of pay and career opportunities, we will see more talented female teachers leaving the classroom.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).