NEA President: Educators Play Pivotal Role in Guiding Girls Into Leadership Roles

There’s a gender leadership gap in the United States, says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, and educators are well-positioned to help close it.

“The role educators can play in shaping perceptions of women as leaders and creating a pipeline for girls to lead inside and outside school is clear,” Eskelsen Garcia said.

How to create pathways in school for girls to take on leadership roles and ensure access to all educational opportunities was the focus of a webinar on Sept. 30 that featured educators in more than nine countries, members of the media and thought leaders. Eskelsen García was joined by Dr. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Ph.D., of the Tisch College of Citizenship & Public Service at Tufts University.

“We need to think about what we can do, as educators, to help girls make the leap from being great students to being leaders in society and business. As educators, we are in a position to encourage girls’ confidence in their leadership skills and to nurture their dreams,” Eskelsen García said.

The webinar addressed key points from a just-released survey, Closing the Leadership Gap-How Educators Can Help Girls Lead, authored by NEA, the American Association of University Women, and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement of the Tisch College of Citizenship & Public Service at Tufts University.

During the discussion, Madeleine Kennedy-Macfoy of Education International said educators must facilitate more than student learning in the classroom.

“A teacher’s duty is to create a space for a student to be able to put what they have learned into practice,” Kennedy-Macfoy explained. “This is the key in the roles teachers have to play in posturing female students in education. Education has to equitable, free from stereotypes, and provide human rights to all students, thus can create better societies.”

According to Closing the Leadership Gap, educators,to help encourage students’ acceptance of girls and women in leadership roles, should share gender-neutral views and examples of leadership with their students. But the key to having teachers that foster and promote acceptance is having teachers with experience and professional development in gender and diversity issues.

The report suggests that, although most educators have a good handle on issues relating to gender, some educators may hold conscious or unconscious biases that probably alter how they view the ability and interests of girls in the classroom.

“Educators need to reduce defining leaders in gender neutral terms because gender bias still exists” Dr. Kei Kawashima-Ginsburg stated. “The Unites States suffers from serious gender based gap. Women have proven themselves repeatedly, yet the gap still exists.” Dr. Kawashima-Ginsberg believes that shortchanging opportunities for girls undermines democracy and echoed Eskelsen-García’s call for a stronger educator role.

“Educators can have a profound influence on that development, and this study provides us with a roadmap for where we should go next – in policy, training, and classroom teaching,” she remarked.

Recommendations in Closing the Leadership Gap include:
• Provide teachers with professional development and pre-service cultural competence, diversity, and leadership trainings that examine stereotypes and biases about girls, women, and leadership;
• Highlight the importance of women’s contributions across the academic spectrum and expose all students to women who are role models and leaders in the world;
• Encourage girls to take on leadership roles and encourage all students to take on non-traditional leadership roles.

The bottom line, said Eskelsen García, is that we must think of leadership for girls as “something in a classroom that is organic, just natural.”

“Closing the leadership gap by encouraging girls and women to take leadership positions is paramount if we are going to have equal representation in public, political, philanthropic, business, educational and non-profit settings. Girls’ education and leadership is a global issue.”

Watch the Webinar: