This paper by Anthony Thorpe draws on a large body of literature from education settings and highlights some findings around women’s representation and the exercise of leadership.
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1. Introductory summary
There is much shared history between churches and educational institutions including the people who work in them, those for whom they have a special concern and their missions to serve the wider community and promote social cohesion. Many Christian organizations, including the Methodist Church, have indicated a wish to look further at women in leadership in the church and the issue of under-represented groups in leadership (for example, Green, 2014; Jones, 2015; Methodist Church, 2002, 2003, 2005), and the education sector has been concerned with this matter with increasing interest over the past couple of decades (Coleman, 2012; Ozga, 1993). Yet whilst reports from both sectors contain exhortations to ‘make things better’, ways forward seem less easy to implement and the same experiences and frustrations often re-emerge in research across the decades (Coate et al., 2015).
This review of the literature mainly from education settings explores the terrain of women in leadership and management in order to extract useful insights. It asks what thwarts these good intentions and how a more inclusive leadership might be achieved 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.
2. Methodology and methods
The methodological approach used insights from two major approaches that:
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 (Arnold and Brooks, 2013 ; Martinez Dy, Martin and Marlow, 2014), and,
ii) sought to move beyond surface level experiences and to identify the underlying events and mechanisms that generate these experiences within specific contexts (Scott, 2010).
This review does not claim to be a systematic one but does draw upon a number of the method’s characteristics (Nind, 2006; Nind et al., 2004). A search using the Education Research Complete database was undertaken. Over 222,000 works were identified through the key terms of leadership, management and education which reduces to 81,053 when the search term gender is added and 80,996 when ‘school’ is added. Of those works, the majority were published in the last 10 years (46,358) indicating that increasing interest in the topic (compared with 10,315 published between 2000-2005). Two articles were identified when the final term of ‘church’ was added (Arnold and Brooks, 2013; Griffiths, 2009). Most publications come from writers based in the UK, USA and Australia. Five studies were included in the in-depth review.