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A Call to Action: Part Two

Fixing Workplaces, Not Women
By Debra E. Lane and Ann Marie Luce
A Call to Action: Part Two

In the first part of this series, we addressed how “many workplace initiatives to close gender pay and promotion gaps focus on fixing the women, assuming that they, rather than systems that under-promote them, are the problem.” We looked at the need to prioritize gender equity and tangible actions to dismantle gender inequity. In this article, we will identify how to change the leadership landscape and develop strong allies.

Changing the Leadership Landscape

Women are committed to rebuilding the economy, seeing tremendous worldwide momentum beckoning them in all disciplines. Leaders must respond to the changing nature of the global landscape through inclusivity, collaboration, and responsiveness to organizational and educational needs. Changing the landscape is challenging for women leaders.

"In November 2022, new data from The Reykjavik Index for Leadership, an annual survey that compares how men and women are viewed in terms of their suitability for positions of power, showed trust in women leaders has fallen markedly throughout the past year. This measure's first decline since Kantar Public, an evidence and advisory public-policy business, started collecting data in 2018. Across the G7 nations, which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US, fewer than half of respondents (47 percent) said they were 'very comfortable’ having a woman as CEO of a major company in their country, down from 54 percent a year earlier. Men were significantly more likely than women to be critical of a female leader, and one in 10 respondents said they would be uncomfortable with a female CEO" (Cox, 2022).

Possible reasons cited for the erosion of trust include institutional misogyny, gender bias, the familiarity principle, politics, including legal decisions like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, leadership behaviors that objectify and belittle women, a belief that feminism has gone too far, and changing values in young adults (Cox, 2022). This data reinforces the need for strong female role models to support the development of tomorrow's leaders.

King (2020) discovered that men and women are perceived to have equal advancement and growth, workplace experiences, and professional opportunities.

"Many women experience identity conflict, trying to lead in workplaces where only masculine management styles are recognized and rewarded. These challenges are made harder still when women have multiple intersecting identities like race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, religion and age" (p. 4).

King's research concluded that women believed they were unsuccessful leaders due to their choices or skills, not due to unfriendly or adverse workplaces.

Culture uncovers explicit gender stereotypes and perceptions about leadership regarding masculine and feminine dimensions (Bissessar, 2018). According to Bissessar (2018), women leaders are perceived as soft, gentle, and nurturing. Men, on the other hand, are competitive, driven, materialistic, and assertive. These stereotypes for women translate into how they dress, talk, fill a room, and their leadership style. Women hire voice coaches, stylists, image consultants, executive branding agencies, and public-speaking instructors to learn the skills for success in the male-dominated field of leadership (Ibarra et al., 2013). If we look at the effectiveness of leaders based on ability, skills, and adaptability instead of a set of male and female leadership qualities, we will support women in better navigating the glass labyrinth of leadership (Nakitende, 2019).

When building an allied community, start with the cadre of men who get it, show interest, and have the heart for the work. Expanding through your networks, invitations, and nominations is a great place to start.

Men As Allies

Suppose mentoring, sponsorship, and intentional friendship are critical ingredients in achieving gender equality in the workplace. In that case, men have a crucial role in making life and career-altering developmental relationships available to everyone, especially in male-centric workplaces featuring few senior leadership women.

Actions for Allies

  • Purposefully use your influence. Use your potential power to overcome resistance to organizational change and demonstrate your support and expectations for others to support gender and inclusion events.
  • Be intentional in attracting diverse talent. Examine your school's digital media for diverse, respectful, and healthy depictions of women and men and review educational and training content to include diverse experiences.
  • Connect women's initiatives to leadership responsibilities.
  • Recognize that gender is not binary. A crucial part of becoming a better ally to get equality also recognizes that we no longer live in a world of just men and women. Although the term non-binary was coined in the 90s, non-binary people have existed throughout recorded human history and across cultures. In the US, 56 percent of Gen Z know someone who uses a gender-neutral pronoun, and 59 percent believe forms should include options other than "man" and "woman,"  indicative of an upcoming revolution of gender norms in schools and the workplace.

Actions for School Leaders

  • Cast a wide net. Reach out to diverse leaders with an invitation to the table and space to share their perspectives.
  • Engage men as allies. Leverage the male legends in the organization. Reinforce the power of your legends as positive male influencers and role models. Their influence on other men through their behavior strengthens a courageous sense of aspiration and purpose in the allyship of junior men. Studies have found that when men are engaged, most organizations see progress. Have these discussions among leadership team members, and what it looks like in your school.
  • Identify and provide opportunities for personal and professional development for those allies interested in developing themselves.
  • Encourage tempered radicals and rebel leaders, the cultural insiders with an outsider perspective. These leaders help overcome resistance and barriers to change.
  • Solicit nominations. Create and engage in women's networks in your schools to identify established men as aspiring gender diversity advocates.
  • Promote healthy gender identities.
  • Teach yourself. Anyone who thinks that there are no fewer barriers for women is just ignorant of the challenges that exist throughout the system. As well as listening to your colleagues, books like The Guilty Feminist and The Fix will give you empathetic insight into women's challenges in the workplace.
  • Prepare students for this current workforce. Eighty-five percent of new entries into the workforce are women, people of color, or millennials. By 2020, millennials will be the largest employee pool in the country. In seven years, given Boomer retirement, job growth, and fewer new workers entering the workforce, there will be 23 million job openings in this country (WHO, 2020)

As mentioned in part one of this series,” the 20th-century workplace is in the past. Our current workplace demands a new set of attributes, skill sets, and knowledge for its workers, directors, CEOs, and heads of schools to lead, develop, and advance this diverse workforce. If we want to design a just future, we must acknowledge and advocate against the fundamental bias that frames women as atypical. If we are committed to fixing workplaces, not women, organizations must prioritize transparency, metrics, safety, and policies.” In addition, they must create networks and opportunities for men to be allies and ensure students have equitable leadership models.

Women are not a confounding factor to eliminate. It is time to start counting women as the entirely average humans they are. "Representation has the power to create a ‘new normal.’ It is not simply about representation itself, but how this increased visibility creates new messages, stories, and experiences for students that become a part of how they understand and interpret the world" (Aow, Hollins & Whitehead, 2022, p.104). By addressing issues and exploring strategies that fix workplaces, not women, we highlight inequity and create a path forward to revolutionize equity-based practices and create safe spaces of safety and belonging.



Aow, A., Hollins, S., & Whitehead, S. (2023). Becoming a totally inclusive school: A guide for teachers and school leaders. Routledge.

Bissessar, C. (2018). An Application of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension among Female Educational Leaders. Education Sciences, 8(2), 77. doi:10.3390/educsci8020077

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Debra E. Lane, Ed.D., has worked as a principal in an international school in China and is now consulting in international and United States based schools on leadership and development. She is the co-author of the book, Raise Her Up.

Ann Marie Luce, Ed.D., has worked as a principal in China and is now the director of curriculum and innovation at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, NY.

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