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Executive Report - ATA secures grant to study women in leadership

June 2, 2021 Elissa Corsi, ATA Executive Staff Officer, Government


If the teaching profession in Alberta is highly feminized, why are there so few women at the top? This is the question that a new research project aims to answer.

Thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the project will unfold over the next three years as a partnership between the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the University of Alberta and the College of Alberta School Superintendents.

The percentage of women in leadership roles, as defined by Alberta Education’s quality standards for both school leaders and superintendents, declines as the level of leadership increases. The same phenomenon is present at the Alberta Teachers’ Association, where a woman has never held the top staff position of executive secretary. Yet the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund reported that, in 2017, 76 per cent of the teaching population was female.

Despite this discrepancy, there has been little formal study in this area. Research at the intersection of gender highlights various factors that come into play for women in leadership: family life, caretaking, socio-cultural roles and perceptions, and economics. All these elements have been further emphasized by the current COVID-19 pandemic, several studies show, including those conducted by Promundo and the United Nations.

This research partnership aims to delve into understanding the intersections of gender in educational leadership by reaching out to school divisions (public, Catholic, charter, etc.) in French and in English, to share the experiences of women in the teaching profession.

The partnership will address priorities identified by a 2019 ATA survey on the perceptions and roles of women in K–12 education. Initial findings revealed concerns among teachers about gender discrimination. The participants recognized numerous barriers to leadership for women, including the impact of family leaves on women’s progression into leadership positions.

Building on these initial results, the primary focus of this research partnership will be to investigate the effect of family leaves and caretaking roles on the careers of female educators, an area with virtually no substantial research. To address this, a comprehensive mixed method research into the lived experiences of women in educational leadership in Alberta will aim to

  • establish baseline data regarding the participation of women and the intersections of gender in educational leadership;
  • investigate the current lived experiences of women in educational leadership and determine the effects of leaves (family and others), intersectionality and caregiving responsibilities on women’s leadership experiences;
  • co-create, with our partners, policies and administrative procedures that will remove the barriers to career progression for women in educational leadership in Alberta; and
  • develop a data-acquisition model that will guide decision making and allow stakeholders to continue to document the gains of women in leadership in Alberta.

This research will provide the foundation for a follow-up study investigating the pan-Canadian environment of women in educational leadership. Ultimately, we seek to bring women to the policymaking process, as the late justice Ruth Baden Ginsburg said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” ❚


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