Why women in leadership roles matter
Let’s be honest—when it comes to economic equality and opportunities for women, there’s still a long way to go. But there’s good news in this part of the world—things are changing for the better. Girls across Canada are lucky—they have female role models to look up to in pretty much every sector, from politics and sports to science and entertainment. What’s most important, though, is that there are smart, accomplished, independent women even closer to home who are making their mark on boys and girls—they’re the women who head up your child’s private school.
Having strong female role models for girls is essential, that goes without saying. Studies show neither boys nor girls mention women when they’re asked to name leaders. A study from Harvard University found that even teen girls appear to be biased against female leaders. That’s why it’s so important for women in the top jobs at schools help break this bias and act as empowering mentors for their students.
Nancy Richards is the head of school at St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn in Oakville, Ont. She started as a teacher but moved into school leadership more than 25 years ago. She says it’s important for students to see every member of society as someone who has an opportunity to flourish. “What I’m doing, what a lot of women colleagues are doing, is modelling more of a democratic, participatory decision-making style for competency in the 21st century.” Ginie Wong, head of school at Fieldstone Day School in Toronto, agrees, adding “all students should learn to seize every opportunity to adapt to the ever-changing world and make use of the new opportunities offered. It is important for female students (and male students) to understand and see that all human beings are equally deserving of leadership opportunities.”
The head of elementary at Calgary’s Webber Academy, Dianne Lever, says she feels it’s important for female and male students to see women in top jobs. “It helps them to see that women can also be strong and determined in times of challenge but also offer different perspectives and solutions when leading,” she says. “Women and men have a lot to offer in various leadership positions and it is important to dissolve the idea that a specific gender is better than another for the job. It should be based on education and experience and passion for the job. We want our students to see how one person can make a difference in the lives of others through their area of interest.”
Helping girls see themselves as future leaders is another part of the equation, says Marilena Tesoro, head of school at Holy Name of Mary College School in Mississauga, Ont. She says it has everything to do with building confidence through doing, which is why their girls not only see women in leadership roles, but they put students in situations where they need to lead, such as taking charge of events and activities. “Little by little, confidence is nurtured,” she says. “And they really inspire other girls.” Richards agrees. She says her school fosters a growth mindset. “Girls need to find their voice, drive, passion and identity, the value of grit and self-awareness, to be open to possibilities and to learn to support one another.”
From the role models
Jill Block, principal of lower and middle school at WillowWood School in Toronto, on girls and goals:
“I believe in the power of changing lives by reaching students and helping them achieve their goals. At WillowWood, we don't limit ourselves to traditional ideas and methods—we persist until we find an approach that meets the varying needs of all of our students.”
Dianne Lever, head of elementary at Webber Academy in Calgary, on her collaborative team approach:
“For the most part, people are very respectful and respond well to my leadership style. I believe in a collaborative team approach that the staff respects. Leading an elementary school is a very fast-paced environment and challenging to try to meet the needs of all the students and teachers. I would describe it as organized chaos most of the time, however, it is very rewarding when you see people responding positively to your ideas and leadership.”
Ginie Wong, head of school at Fieldstone Day School in Toronto, on female teachers outnumbering men while senior levels of administration are typically male-dominated:
“It is true that female teachers outnumber male teachers at Fieldstone, and the female-to-male ratio becomes more balanced when it comes to senior levels of administration. I have had the pleasure to learn how to work with both male and female colleagues to achieve maximum personal and work- related performance outcomes.”
Originally published in Private School Guide 2019. Photo: Bannockburn School.