girls-leadership

Report urges support for girls’ leadership roles


“We need to think about what we can do as educators to help girls make the leap from being students to being great leaders in society,” she said during the event. “As educators, we’re in a position to create a pipeline of girls interested in leadership, and to nurture their dreams.”

Stereotypes at all levels, and of all sizes, should be confronted as educators make efforts to encourage girls in leadership roles.

“One of the most important things is to be aware of stereotypes, even if they might seem harmless,” she said.

When it comes to efforts to support leadership roles for girls, educators can do three things to help girls develop confidence and strong leadership skills.

Schools can offer professional development and preservice cultural competence, diversity, and leadership trainings that explore stereotypes about girls and leadership.

Educators’ survey responses “suggest that existing professional development and preservice training do not cover the depth and scope of knowledge needed for educators to understand and minimize the explicit and implicit gender biases that impede gender equity in leadership.”

Highlight the importance of women’s academic contributions and make note of women who are role models and strong leaders.

“Exposure to successful role models not only inspires but is crucial in reducing the negative effects of stereotype threat and in breaking down negative perceptions about girls and women in leadership,” the report’s authors note.

Encourage girls to take on leadership roles, and encourage all students to take on leadership roles that are typically considered nontraditional.

“Exposure to successful role models not only inspires but is crucial in reducing the negative effects of stereotype threat and in breaking down negative perceptions about girls and women in leadership,” according to the report.

Key findings in the report focus on educators’ opinions of strong leadership qualities, how boys and girls approach leadership roles, and how stereotypes impact current and future female leaders.

Middle and high school educators generally view leadership in a gender-neutral manner. When asked to select adjectives describing qualities of good leaders, educators chose mostly gender-neutral words instead of “gender stereotypical” words.

Educators can use those leadership views to influence students and share a gender-neutral vision of what makes a strong leader. That influence contributes to efforts to close the leadership gender gap.

Survey respondents said boys and girls approach school leadership roles in different ways. Girls are more likely to take on leadership roles in English/language arts classes, as officers within student government, in community service projects, and on school publications. Boys are more likely to take on leadership roles in athletics, science clubs, and science and math classes. Educators reported that boys and girls are equally likely to have leadership roles in social science subjects.

Girls are slightly more likely to take on science leadership roles in high school (30 percent) than in middle school (20 percent), educators reported in the survey.

Based on those survey results, educators could begin to regularly encourage students to take on “nontraditional” leadership roles.

The report references a 2010 study on women in STEM and notes that high school girls’ increased likelihood to take on science leadership roles is encouraging in light of stereotypes and challenges girls routinely face when it comes to STEM education and engagement.

The survey data included in the report reveals that “gender stereotypes and implicit biases are still a challenge in the education setting, much as they are in other settings.”

The report was commissioned by the NEA, the American Association of University Women, and the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement based at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.

Laura Ascione

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