26 SES 02 B, Gender-aware and Inclusive Leadership and Management
During the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement signalled a change in the public discourse regarding gender-related issues. Lived experiences, including harassment and lack of safety at schools and other organisations, became visible and this raised awareness that gendered power orders are something that we live and reproduce in all parts of our societies. This, in turn, raised questions regarding the role that schools play in shaping the society of tomorrow.
Schools are institutions where students of all ages are being educated for the future through the structures of the present (Durkheim, 1956). This means that schools are important arenas for transformation into a more inclusive society, not only by the content in education but by the way schools exist as learning and gender-aware organizations. While knowledge about schools as learning organizations (OECD, 2016) and school leaders as transformative agents (Bass & Avolio, 1993) has been developed over time, the gender aware aspect is underdeveloped (Berge & Ve, 2000). To be able to function as transformational agents regarding this specific issue, more knowledge is needed on how to create inclusive school organizations through gender aware leadership. This also needs to be considered in regard to principal training.
The aim of the paper is to contribute to how gender aware leadership in schools can be enhanced through principal training, with the underlying purpose of contributing to a more inclusive school and society. To do this, our exploratory study builds on interactive research with 120 principals attending the national school leadership training program in Sweden.
The overall research question is: How can gender aware (school) leadership training be constructed to contribute to inclusion and diversity?
One of our starting points for examining this is that inclusion and exclusion can be studied from a power perspective (Acker, 1992; Acker, 2000; Ahmed, 2012). Another starting point is that in organisations, gender is intertwined with other processes like divisions, symbols, interaction and internal identity work (Acker, 1992). This means that we are using the ‘doing gender perspective’ with the understanding that gender is created and the meaning of gender is formed through different relational activities in an organisation (Acker, 1992; Gunnarsson, Andersson, Vänja Rosell, Lehto, & Salminen-Karlsson, 2003; West & Zimmerman, 1987; West & Zimmerman, 2009).
Research has shown that to challenge existing norms, transformational learning is required (Aagard Nielsen & Steen Nielsen, 2006; Brockbank, McGill, & Beech, 2002). Our assumption is that such changes in schools can be accomplished through transformational leadership (Bass & Avolio, 1993). This, in turn, makes it necessary to design a process to be carried out in organisations, starting with school leaders. In our study, we examine and explore what school leaders know of and understand regarding gender issues. We also examine what they think about change connected to a gender perspective. Hence, the reported project uses an action learning approach (Brockbank et al., 2002) to explore the prerequisites regarding principal training and gender-aware school leadership.
In action-oriented gender research where the doing gender perspective is combined with learning theory from action research, there have been different research projects on ‘gender aware leadership’ (Andersson & Amundsdotter, 2012; Andersson, Amundsdotter, & Svensson, 2009). Some results indicate that middle managers, and possible school leaders show the biggest potential for working with new inclusive practices. We aim to study the question of what is needed to make school leaders the transformation agents of tomorrow and what is needed from those training them. This was all taken as a starting point when working with a group of school leaders in a training program.
There are several challenges regarding transformational learning in general and working with gender awareness and new practices in particular. Gender is often done without awareness and reflection (Martin, 2003). Thus, it is challenging to visualize the invisible. Consequently, various research and development projects have experienced different expressions of resistance when gender has been made visible (Andersson & Amundsdotter, 2012). To be able to create new practices, you need to learn and make interventions with each other on assumptions, expectations, values. You need to create a reflective community where different perspectives will emerge. This is not something that can be done easily. One way is to work with a group of participants, and through joint knowledge processes, develop new understanding which can help to discover new practices on change. Argyris and Schön (1974) claim that people need to explore different aspects of their organisation and, from there, proceed in different reflective processes. In this exploratory study, we worked with two parallel groups. Each group consisted of 60 school leaders (principals, deputy principals and preschool leaders). The data collection was done through a three-step interaction using reflective processes. This includes individual writings, work in smaller groups and reflections in the bigger group of participating school leaders. Since this is an exploratory project, a model for analysing how gender is given meaning and for the participants’ readiness for transformative learning will be presented in depth in the paper. The data was gathered through recurrent individual writing and recorded team reflections. The written data was sorted depending on school forms and the school leader´s sex. The 120 reflections were categorized and analysed to answer the research questions.
In previous projects working with common reflection processes in groups of leaders and managers, assumptions and expectations of women and men showed different conditions and different possibilities (Andersson & Amundsdotter, 2012). Through the joint learning processes between the participating leaders and the researchers, new knowledge and new ways of acting emerge, which can lead to new action patterns and, through that, new norms, assumptions and values. When Berge and Ve (2000) utilized a radical approach to work on projects about gender equity in schools, normalization processes occurred. One conclusion they drew was that there was a stronger need for learning and reflection processes in the group of participating members (teachers) in the action research project than the researchers have thought of. If you are expected to do something new, act in a new way or be aware in a new way, it has to be something for which you are prepared. In this study, we expect varied results: Some leaders will express disinterest, while some will want to learn more. Others will already be engaged with issues in an initiated way and will have seen what impact it may have on the school’s work. We expect questions on how to work with gender issues in single-sex environments with many women. Hence, with respect to school leaders’ learning processes, we expect that with an interactive approach, principal training programs can challenge and create what can be seen as a learning readiness in the groups. We also expect that there will be an information gap regarding how to proceed in developing gender aware organizations through gender aware school leaders. Addressing gender with principals and preschool leaders can thus create a joint learning environment, and can be useful to understanding other kinds of power orders and categories that prevent inclusion and diversity.
Aagard Nielsen, K & Steen Nielsen, B (2006). Methodologies in action research.In Aagaard Nielsen, K & Svensson, L (Eds.) (2006). Action and interactive research – beyond practice and theory. Maastricht: Shaker publishing Acker, J (1992). Gendering Organizational Theory, In Mills, Albert & Tancred Peta (Eds.). Gendering Organizational Analysis. London: Sage Publications. Acker, J (2000) Gendered Contradictions in Organizational Equity Projects. Organization Vol. 7 Issue 4:625-633 Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press. Andersson, S. & Amundsdotter, E. (2012). Developing Innovative Organisations using Action-oriented Gender Research. In Andersson, S., Berglund, K., Gunnarsson, E. & Sundin, E. (Eds) (2012). Promoting innovations. Policies, Practices and Procedures. Stockholm: VINNOVA. Andersson, S, Amundsdotter, E & Svensson, M (2009) Middle managers as change agents – Action oriented Gender Research. Stockholm University. Argyris, C & Schön, D (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Bass, B. M. & Avolio, B. (1993). Transformational leadership and organizational culture. In Public Administration Quarterly. Vol. 17, No. 1 (1993), pp. 112-121 Berge, B-M & Ve, H (2000). Action Research for Gender Equity. Buckingham: Open University Press Brockbank, A, McGill, I & Beech, N (2002). Reflective learning in Practice. Aldershot: Gower Publishing Limited Durkheim, É (1956). Education and sociology. New York: Free Press. Gherardi, S (1994). The Gender We Think, The Gender We Do in Our Everyday Organizational Lives. Human Relations. Vol. 47 Issue 6:591-610 Gunnarsson, E, Andersson, S, Vänja Rosell, A, Lehto, A & Salminen- Karlsson, M (Eds.) (2003). Where Have All the Structures Gone? Doing Gender in Organisations, Examples from Finland, Norway and Sweden. Stockholm: Centre for Gender Studies. Martin, P. Y. (2003). “Said and Done” Versus “Saying and Doing”, Gendering Practices, Practicing Gender. Gender & Society. 17:342-366. McGill, I. & Brockbank, A. (2004). The Action Learning Handbook. Powerful Techniques for Education, Professional Development & Training. London: Routledge OECD (2016). What makes a school a learning organization? A guide for policy makers, school leaders and teachers. https://www.oecd.org/edu/school/school-learning-organisation.pdf. West, C, & Zimmerman, D. (1987). Doing gender. Gender & Society 1, pp: 125-51. West, C, & Zimmerman, D. (2009). Accounting for doing gender. Gender & Society. Vol, 23, No. 1. pp. 111-122.
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