I am woman, hear me roar!
Vivienne Porritt and I collaborated on the piece below for a possible submission into a book designed to amplify tiny voices. Now, it didn't get selected but we use the #WomenEd platform to grow a network of empowered women, create impact on the status quo and carve a large dent in the patriarchy! Connect with @WomenEd on Twitter!
As the story goes, or maybe it is legend now, a group of 7 educators started a conversation on Twitter about the lack of representation of women in leadership roles, gender pay gaps, gender equality and how they might make a difference. These women were wholly focused on the situation in England, never imagining where their conversation may lead. These 7 educators met in May 2015 for afternoon tea at a hotel in Bracknell in the South East of England. Of course, we all think it was gin that lit the fire, but this 'most English of traditions' (Wilson, 2019:3) began a movement that has now crossed the globe.
#WomenEd has had just this kind of impact and there is no end in sight for what this grassroots organization will accomplish. Since its inception, several sister groups have been created, each network amplifying the voices of a few to the collective roar of many. The metaphorical table has had to add many more seats, far more representative of society at large, and the table is far better for it.
#WomenEd now has over 44,000 followers on Twitter, maintains numerous partnerships, has built 37 networks around the world, held over 300 events, written more than 250 blogs, and has published two books, all due to uniting and amplifying the individual, tiny voices of women leaders.
It would be understatement to say that discontent and inequality forged this network of women educators and leaders. In every network that has since been created the statistics are similar. Women make up most roles in the classroom, yet their advancement into middle and especially senior leadership positions, is much lower.
Systemic, cultural, personal, societal, and family pressures and obstacles are often in place that keep women from smashing the glass ceiling. For women of colour, the glass ceiling is often more of a concrete ceiling (Choudry in 10% Braver: Inspiring Women to Lead Education, 2019).
In a Forbes article, Why Women Need to Network Differently Than Men to Get Ahead, Caroline Castrillon explores how women can advance professionally. Women focus on creating personal relationships and an 'inner circle of women' on whom they rely for professional and personal advice and support. 'The support system and gender-specific advice that women can provide to other women are crucial to career advancement.' (Castrillon, 2019). #WomenEd does exactly this type of networking.
Anna Powers (2019) adds that women seek out diversity in their networks which helps them overcome blind spots and cognitive biases, thus reducing weakness, leading to an expanding point of view and open-mindedness. Diversity is part of the vision and values of #WomenEd and we seek out all the various voices, inviting blogs, videos, presentations, and speakers at our unconferences to ensure that all perspectives are heard.
It could be said, in fact, that #WomenEd serves as the megaphone for the amplification of a multitude of tiny voices. These voices unite on Twitter, from @BAMEedNetwork, to @LGBTedUK, to @DisabilityEdUK. Also, there are numerous groups that grew because of their connection to #WomenEd, such as @maternityCPD and @FlexTeachTalent.
There is no one voice that dominates #WomenEd and no real hierarchy. Many women connected with #WomenEd have gone on to publish books with topics ranging from headship to equity in education. These publications are celebrated through @WomenEdBookclub. There is no competition, no leader, but a group of seven women who support all the networks, ensuring that the integrity of the organization remains intact.
We would even go as far as to say we seek out all the tiny voices. What often starts out as a whisper, we have learned, slowly grows to a roar. Toria Bono in her blog 'Teaching Others and Learning All the Time', states that there are 'big people with big voices' in education but she campaigns to have the tiny voices talk to other tiny voices.
#WomenEd has published two books:
The first, 10% Braver: Inspiring Women to Lead Education, discusses the barriers women face when pursuing leadership: the gender pay gap, flexible working, or the lack thereof, imposter syndrome, lack of representation of women of colour, home-school balance, and navigating the work force.
The second book, Being 10% Braver, relates the real-life narratives of women who have been that little bit braver and pursued leadership, often battling against discrimination, unconscious bias, stereotyping, the motherhood penalty, and an array of other issues which hold women back from attaining leadership roles.
#WomenEd put out calls for contributing authors for Being 10%Braver and many of the authors are first time writers. The #WomenEd books are often described as accessible and empowering. Readers can relate because they can see themselves in the stories. Readers can relate because they can hear their voices in the narratives presented, particularly in Being 10%Braver.
The essence of #WomenEd lies in its values and vision.
Central to these values is supporting aspiring women leaders and modeling the 8 C's – clarity, communication, connection, community, confidence, collaboration, challenge, and change. Empowered women empower other women and meet women where they are at in their journey.
#WomenEd 'is about people, relationships, storytelling and their impact.' (Wilson 2019:5). #WomenEd's values come alive during their events and annual unconferences, either in person or virtually. Women from around the world contribute their perspectives, their ideas, and their experiences. Regularly, women express that they mustered up courage to participate in panels or sessions because other women also expressed the same sentiment and had presented previously. This bravery is contagious and, unlike many mainstream educational conferences, the sessions are accessible, relatable and there is broad representation of all voices. At these sessions, #WomenEd makes space for people to be heard and encourages senior leaders to ensure that they create cultures where women can be heard. As Hilary Goldsmith states, 'I dug deep into my bravery bank account, found the cash to buy my own chair, plonked it down at the edge of the table and …astonishingly, everyone shuffled to make room.' Being 10%Braver.
That table was #WomenEd.
Whatever the metaphor used, the #WomenEd community is welcoming, supportive and speaks powerfully with and for all tiny voices.
#WomenEd uses Twitter as its main social media platform. It is easy to collect evidence about the impact of the organization and its individual members by simply reading and collecting tweets. These tweets often talk about women finding and learning how to use their voices to change and challenge the status quo and the landscape of leadership.
From August 10, 2018, 'Your impact is immeasurable. Your life experiences have made you stronger and we have become braver because of you. Fairness is more than just equality; it is about empowering so that voices are really heard bringing about change without changing the self.' (Jamill, personal communication, 10 August 2018).
In 2018 there was a blog challenge (#pledgeforchange) and many of the blogs were written and published by first-time authors. These blogs talked about being brave, being true, being authentic and finding a voice. Looking at this qualitative data, it seems clear that when tiny voices find themselves, bravery soon follows, and these tiny voices become change-makers. Charlie Kraig, in a blog from March 2020, says 'When we come together as women, as leaders, as people determined to make our world a better place for everyone, there is power in that.' (Power of Connection #IWD2020, 8 March 2020)
#WomenEd continues to grow and expand its impact. Working on a possible third book, #WomenEd will seek out voices that have not yet been heard and is always honored when asked to contribute to articles, blogs, books, workshops, and conferences.
#WomenEd will continue to challenge, change, and champion women to find and use their voices to create a world where women can be who they are, and feel acceptance, regardless of gender, race, religion, orientation, age, or size.
#WomenEd will continue to be the megaphone for the voices that need to be heard and provide the platform for the words and ideas that need to be visible.
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