This April 8-10th, Senior Associate Julie Ryan and Senior Consultant Eric Sands attended the 2021 Virtual Leadership Conference of the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS). This year’s theme was Diversity & Belonging: The Power of Commonality and Inclusion. Julie focused on women and expanding diversity of international school faculties and leadership. Julie reflects,
Some common perceptions, facts, and experiences shared across the sessions made for some serious pondering about what we, as Search Associates, could be doing to increase the representation of BIPOC and women in international school faculties and leadership.
After attending the excellent Keynote, Eric recommended Julie watch it as well. CEO of Eduro Learning Kim Cofino presented Women Who Lead: The Realities Women Face Pursuing a Leadership Role, which was developed after interviews with 70 international school women leaders, “approximately all there are, or so it seems,” adds Julie.
“The pipeline is a trickle,” for women reaching Head of School status,” Kim revealed, before adding that superintendents in the U.S. are the “most white male profession.” Kim told stories and showed video clips of some of these women sharing obstacles that they have faced.
Getting into the leadership pipeline requires not only credentials and experience but also proper mentorship and successful networking. One of Kim’s interviewees—who said that at a Head of School meeting she was asked if she was in the wrong place—advised female aspiring leaders to never attend a meeting with a notebook or laptop because “men will make you a scribe.” Networking, particularly in international schools, seems to be exclusive because of the notion perpetuated that leaders are a specific type, white males predominantly. Women school leaders talk about the challenge of entering conversations at social functions (those “cocktail things”) which feel like an “old boys’ club,” where the chat feels like a “game” you need to know how “to play.” Of course, female non-native English speakers, feel even more uncomfortable. Networking and finding a mentor are difficult when no one “looks like you.” White males in the U.S. receive more mentoring than either women or candidates of color. With regards to diversity, we in education are focusing more on students than on the adults.
Interviewees shared examples of double-standards and micro-aggressions they encountered during interviews: As part of a couples’ interview, the woman is addressed as “the wife,” instead of as a viable candidate. Women also hear, “You are the best person to do this, but you are nice.” Women pursuing leadership encounter microagression. One woman of color pursuing a leadership position shared examples of barbed questions she has faced: Is that a power suit you are wearing? . . . Is it possible to be too ambitious? She’s been told her earrings were too big.
Turning the tide of equity in leadership would first require more women to envision themselves as leaders if their experiences have demonstrated the inclination. Women need to encourage those with leadership potential. Kim adds, “Some of us who needed the nudge may get to a place where we no longer question whether we can be leaders.” Next, she advises, “Fix each other’s crowns!” Within our institutions, we should collaborate with and support women—and men—of all profiles.
Mentorship is the secret sauce to being a good leader. It is imperative that women in leaderships position mentor others. “Good mentors try to replace themselves,” Kim adds. Furthermore, those with leadership potential should aggressively seek a mentor, someone who inhabits ideal qualities. Otherwise, the pursuit of and position of leadership can be too elusive and ultimately too isolating.
Organizations should be looking for their own blind spots with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) specialists to direct them toward reflection and strategic plans. Kim says, “bias training doesn’t really alter people’s behavior. You have to change the procedures.” In the end, hiring should be “blind.”
Julie also attended the presentation Opportunities for More Diverse Leadership: Women Leaders at International Schools by Juliette Van Eerdewijk, Primary Principal at International School of the Hague; and Sue Aspinall, Head of Primary, British School of the Hague. Juliette and Sue presented data from a study done in the Netherlands that revealed that the number of women in leadership positions has risen but mainly in primary schools only. Data from a major recruiting firm revealed that 80% of the placements were male. In secondary schools, 75% of all leaders, male and female, remain Caucasian.
Sue and Juliette’s recommendations for change were largely similar to those of Kim Cofino: Change the recruitment and interview process; provide more leadership opportunities; and provide role models with a more “equitable leadership” style. However, most striking was their perspective on what a job vacancy could mean for an organization, for recruitment.
Each vacancy is an opportunity to redefine the role. The selection of candidates designs your future school. Therefore, Juliette and Sue say, “the advertisement will attract the candidates your organization deserves (the wording, vocabulary and photos tell a powerful story). When designing the ad, schools need to reflect on the question: What does this school need right now and aspire to become?” Photos of people reflecting diversity along with a realistic depiction of the school should be included. Take into consideration vacancies in all areas of the school, from Receptionist to staff in Human Resources. Juliette and Sue say, “The way candidates are received at all stages makes a difference.” Interviews should be led by a team with diverse profiles.
Organizations are encouraged to give women leadership opportunities. Ideally, they would be paired with mentors who can guide and provide supportive feedback because studies have shown women often judge their own performance worse than it is. Organizations can ensure that women and men both are represented in all projects and working groups and model non-sexist behavior and gender-neutral language. DEI themes should be integrated into all staff professional learning activities so that in the end all adults are treating females and males the same way.
The presentation, Diversity and Inclusivity: Walking the Talk in International School Recruiting Practices, given by Andrew Cross, IS Hamburg and Tim Kelley, Stuttgart IS, addressed the question: If your teacher and leadership demographic is less diverse than your students, what might be some of the reasons for this?
The presenters said that along with the “narrow band of recruiting practices,” perspectives, such as the myth of the native English speaker being more desirable, need to change. Moreover, diversity based solely on the number nationalities within a teaching staff is not necessarily a genuine reflection of diversity.
Andrew and Tim made suggestions for ways recruiters can broaden their pool of diverse candidates:
- Collaborate with regional agencies
- Create more welcoming publications and advertisements, using inclusive language and images that emphasize both reality and inclusion
- Take a risk and offer some internships to candidates of diverse profiles rather than strictly relying on experienced teachers of homogenous profiles
- Diversify interviewing teams and include a member of Human Resources
- Dedicate to diversity when drawing the short list of candidates for positions
James Duval, Lower School Principal at Riverdale Country School (Riverdale) in New York City (NYC) and formerly from Benjamin Franklin International School, presented Strategic Practices for Hiring and Retaining Faculty. Julie, who has visited “this top progressive K-12 independent school with a diverse student body” was very eager to hear what James had to say!
Riverdale’s commitment to DEI has had a tremendous impact. In the past three years, over 50% of their hires have been diverse. This has shown the community that it is a top priority. Students are seeing more teachers who identify with their backgrounds. Community members are seeing more viewpoints being represented.
Riverdale has taken strategic actions to diversify their faculty and avoid the “Mini-Me Trap.” They wanted to avoid unconscious bias, which comes into play when hiring: racism, sexism, tribalism, and stereotypes. Those who are involved in interviewing often try to replicate themselves, with regards to university attended; the type of professional experience, with a bias toward those who have worked at other independent schools; and previous work context.
James says because change has to be deliberate and intentional, his team gathered data. They found that 42% of the students at Riverdale are students of color, but elementary faculty was still primarily white and female.
Riverdale revised their website to welcome diversity in language and image. The website is a greeting of sorts, and James emphasizes that greetings are “important.”
Riverdale took a hard look at their interviewing process in order to create a more equitable experience. They committed to ensuring that all individuals train in anti-bias and to incorporate multiple perspectives into hiring process. They asked all candidates “who they wanted to connect with.” The hiring team also ask candidates how they have demonstrated a commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in the classroom and beyond and how have they furthered their understanding?
Retention of diverse, outstanding educators is critical as well. Riverdale sends candidates of color to the annual National Association Independent Schools People of Color Conference and sponsors their membership to affinity groups.
Search Associates looks forward to attending next year’s ECIS Conference and taking what we learn to better serve both our candidates and schools around the world.