Rise and rise of the FEmale

November 7, 1997

Men and women will always compete, but for different reasons. Alan Thomson reports

MORE women are reaching the top in further education having proved themselves adept opportunists when it comes to securing posts as college principals.

A survey by the Further Education Development Agency shows that a fifth of the 52 women principals taking part had been appointed within the last year, almost as many as had been in their jobs between seven and ten years.

The agency's Women at the Top in Further Education report shows that proportionately fewer women principals are managing the largest colleges. More than half of those responding managed colleges in Greater London or the South East.

The report also shows that only 6 per cent of the respondents had actively planned their careers to any great extent. Two-fifths felt that they had reached the top with little or no career planning. Most said they had taken opportunities as they arose and some said they attained principalship by accident rather than design.

A number of the respondents said that it was often changes in their personal lives that had led them to seek progression to the senior ranks. Among the motivators mentioned were childen reaching their late teens, divorce or separation and even turning 40.

Forty per cent of the respondents had childcare responsibilities, 55 per cent looked after other members of the family and 35 per cent spent between six and ten hours a week on other domestic duties.

Some decided to go for senior posts to escape, as one principal put it, being managed by a "lazy and incompetent man". The main motivation was not the status and power but self-development and fulfilment.

Women principals tend to enjoy working as part of a team and encourage a spirit of mutual respect in their institutions. But this is not at the expense of strong leadership.

Principals described themselves as "arrogant", "ruthless" and as having a "desire to cut the crap". Respondents said they were "open" and/or "approachable". Other qualities were stamina, determination, enthusiasm, interpersonal skills and a genuine liking for people.

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