4.3 The intersection of gender, identity and educational leadership
Fuller, K. (2013) Gender, Identity and Educational Leadership. London: Bloomsbury Press.
Kay Fuller explores ‘how head teachers’ social identities – particularly pertaining to gender, social class and ethnicity – influence their leadership of diverse populations of pupils and staff’ (p.1). Through interviews with 18 secondary school headteachers from the United Kingdom, she links their social identities through their personal and professional histories; and then to their perceptions of diversity amongst the children, young people, staff and the wider communities they serve.
Fuller sees ‘gender as a complex and fluid performance that challenges the notion of embodied gender or sex’ (pp. 2-3). She draws on Bourdieu’s ‘thinking tools’, with his concepts of ‘habitus,’ ‘field’, ‘forms of capital’, ‘misrecognition’ and ‘symbolic violence’ to explore how the women in her sample became head teachers and how they see their values and practice in the complex social sites of schools.
Two key ideas in the book are those of ‘awareness’ and ‘misrecognition’. She makes a distinction between those who are ‘aware’ and those who are ‘unaware’ of gender, race and class differences, for example,
Class aware headteachers were also more likely to value the social capital of collaborative working with other local schools. They sought flattened hierarchical structures and described leadership team working more than class unaware headteachers in the main….Class unaware headteachers have not been without power; they might be less conscious of using it. (p.138)
The idea of ‘misrecognition’ of unequal relations in schools follows on from this awareness or recognition. Her use of the insights of intersectionality allows her to identify the tensions between agency and structure which exist in any context regardless of the mind-sets of individual teachers.
To see individuals and families as wholly agential is to misrecognise the impact of societal and institutional racism. Misrecognition is not confined to White headteachers. (p.167)
Fuller concludes that headteachers who themselves have been ‘misrecognised’ or misrepresented in their past are better leaders for this. Her book makes an important contribution in exploring the way connections are made between intersectionality and leadership, and the particular context and concerns of schools. Addressing issues around women and leadership outside of specific contexts makes little sense nor will it contribute to moving matters forward to promote equality, diversity and inclusion.