Governors’ support for women leaders matters

I was delighted that my article (How Can Governors Support Women Leaders in Education) was accepted for publication in the WomenEd edition of Innovate Journal. You can read other articles in the journal using this link.


Good leaders encourage and develop others who aspire to leadership positions. Trustees and governors are strategic leaders of the organisations they govern (Department for Education, 2020). However, they still can, and should, play an important part in career development of staff. In this article I discuss how I, as a trustee/governor have done this.

Governing Boards of maintained schools and academy trusts are required to elect a Chair and a Vice Chair (Department for Education, 2017; The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations, 2013).

According to the latest National Governance Association’s governor survey (2020), 61% of female respondents (compared with 49% of males) said they would not become Chair; this is unfortunate as female chairs can serve as role models for other governors.

I have experience of chairing a trust board and Local Governing Boards. My chairing career started when I was encouraged to chair a committee by the then Chair of the board (a female). I now try and pass that baton on by encouraging others to consider chairing. The Vice Chair at one of my boards is considering stepping into my role and I am helping her prepare for that move.

One of the most important roles for boards is appointment of heads and senior leaders. Vivienne Porritt stated in an article (Tickle, 2018) that she believes there is evidence of “gendered” language in many of the recruitment advertisements which deters women from applying. While serving on appointment panels for heads and senior leaders, I can ensure that this is not the case as well as making sure that the interview process itself is fair and equitable (for example, candidates looking for flexible hours or job-shares are not disadvantaged).

Tockey and Ignatova (2019) found that women are less likely to apply for positions senior to those they currently hold. Mohr (2014) reports that 21.6% of women (compared to 12.7% of men) said one of the reasons for not applying was that they thought they would not be hired if they did not meet the qualifications and they did not want to put themselves out there if they were going to fail.

Women applying for their first headship may not know much about the process. This is especially true if they have not served as a governor themselves. I speak at events and also have one-to-one conversations with prospective candidates during which I tell them that it is still worth applying even if they do not have all the “desirable” qualifications. I explain that governors would be looking for evidence that the candidate’s vision is in line with those of the board’s. I also ensure that they realise that the questions they will be asked are designed to test how strong the candidates are in setting and delivering strategic goals.

For first time applicants, I offer to help them understand the different types of tasks they may be required to do during the interview process. As I have been in governance for some time now, my network includes many serving heads. If candidates would find it useful to talk with heads of similar schools, I help arrange meetings between them.

I offer to talk with candidates after their interview. If they have been successful, I offer to help them with any governance related issues or questions they may have in their new role. If they have not been successful, then it is important for me to assure them that not being successful means that that school was not a good fit and not that they lacked the ability to be a head or a senior leader. In these cases, I advise them to get detailed feedback which would help them in the future.

It is important to ensure that there is diversity in the school leadership that women who want to take up leadership positions are supported and recruitment and retention practises are equitable. Above are some examples of how governors can accomplish this.


“When you look at successful women, they have other women who have supported them, and they’ve gotten to where they are because of those women.

Sheryl Sandberg



Department for Education (2017) Model articles of association for academy trusts [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

Department of Education (2020) The Governance handbook [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

Mohr,T.S. (2014) Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified Harvard Business Review [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

National Governance Association (2020) School Governance Report 2020 [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 UK Statutory (Instruments 2013 No. 1624 PART 3 Regulation 7) [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

Tickel, L. (2018) ‘Language in school job ads puts women off headteacher roles.’ The Guardian [Accessed 18 Feb 2021]

Tockey, D. and Ignatova, M. (2019) Gender Insights Report How women find jobs differently. Available at [Accessed 18 Feb 2021].

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