Women and Leadership: a review of literature from the education sector


There is much shared history and common ground between churches and educational institutions given their particular concerns with serving the community, supporting social cohesion and promoting social justice. A considerable amount of research has been conducted into women’s experiences of leadership in the education sector. Yet whilst there are calls to ‘make things better’, ways forward seem less easy to implement and the same experiences and frustrations continue to emerge in research. The challenge remains to identify what it is that thwarts these good intentions and how a more inclusive practice, and conception, of leadership might be achieved.

A review of the literature from mainly education settings exploring the terrain of women and leadership sought to identify insights for both the education sector and the Church by exploring four major themes:

i) the representation of women within the leadership structures,
ii) where women are represented within the structures,
iii) how leadership is exercised by women,
iv) the place of leadership development.

Over 222,000 articles were identified through the key search terms of leadership, management and education, which reduces to 80,996 when gender and school are added. The majority were published in the last 10 years (46,358) indicating an increasing interest in the area. Five studies were included in the in-depth review (Fuller, 2013; Grogan and Shakeshaft, 2011; Lumby, 2012; Lynch et al., 2014; Morley, 2013). The methodological approach used insights from two major approaches that:

  1. i) drew upon the insights of intersectionality which argue that the position of women in society cannot be understood by reference to gender alone but must instead take account of other factors such as ethnicity, ability, class, age and sexuality (i.e., setting the study within the equality and diversity field rather than that of gender alone), and,
  2. ii) sought to move beyond surface level experiences and to identify the underlying events and mechanisms that generate these experiences within specific contexts.