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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN DER MERWE, Hettie. Prejudice against female school leadership within the context of multiple deprivations: Threats, approaches, survival. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.4, pp.924-938. ISSN 2224-7912.

Although school leadership positions are increasingly occupied by females, deep-rooted prejudice prevails regarding their competencies to act as school leaders. In this article, the focus is on the challenges facing female school leaders and the resolutions they implement in the face of ongoing prejudice within the context of a multitude of deprivations. While many studies have been conducted on the challenges and successes of female school leadership in urban and rural Western and non-Western societies, understanding female school leadership within the simultaneously occurring conditions of prejudice and multiple deprivation remains an under-researched terrain. For this study, data were collected by means of a qualitative case study approach employing individual interviews with eight female school leaders and eight members of the school management teams of eight primary schools, which serve communities where multiple deprivation is rife. The data were interpreted as research findings through the theoretical lenses of feminist theory, relational leadership theory, and multiple deprivation. The findings pertain to the various approaches female school leaders follow as survival measures to counter the threat of deep-seated prejudice against their competence to hold leadership positions. The approaches these female school leaders follow reveal the value they place on positive relationships, joint decision-making and the best possible care for vulnerable learners. Their adoption of these approaches provides a means of persuading and convincing their staff as well as the learner and parent community of their executive leadership capacities as females. Prejudice against female school leadership manifests as a deeply rooted patriarchal stereotyping of female ability. Especially prevalent in rural areas, such preconceived notions are expressed through the attitudes of members of both the internal and external school society. While some female leaders are discouraged by such prejudice, others deal with it proactively by convincing their school communities of their capacity to lead. Closely related to this attempt at winning over others is the high premium female school leaders place on building positive relationships with their staff as well as the learner and parent community. By considering the suggestions of the parent community when it comes to school improvements, a spirit of cohesive agreement develops which contributes to parents becoming more receptive to female leadership. With their conscious focus on spending enough time (quantitatively speaking) with staff during school breaks, and by considering the anonymous suggestions and complaints of learners, qualitative relationships are engendered which are based on good communication and accessibility. The fact that female leaders focus on these aspects promotes creative problem-solving and negates leadership as an exclusively male domain. Female leaders value collaborative decision-making, which they achieve by eliciting autonomous inputs from committee members. This promotes not only the taking of ownership but also a sense of belonging, which enhances stakeholder receptiveness for female leadership. To convince the community and ensure that the goals of the school are accountably realised through the assertive accommodation of joint decision-making, female school leaders invariably focus on gaining a thorough knowledge of the relevant school policies. Females make convincing leaders thanks to their disposition as caretakers. Due to their own experience of multiple deprivation as children, many of the female leaders participating in this study revealed that they understand the conditions of absolute poverty to which their learners are exposed. Since they have insight into the hopelessness of their learners' circumstances, they know the value of education as a potential source of social mobility. Their task as caretakers is closely linked to obtaining sponsorships which will expose their learners to the most holistic education possible within their own context. They realise that in order to persuade the business world to commit sponsorships, their schools must function properly to be marketed as a worthwhile product. The female leaders' empathetic approach to the well-being of their staff and learners inspires good performance which - with the goodwill and cooperation of the parent community - contributes to a well-functioning school. The combination of an empathetic disposition to learner well-being, their own experience of the value of education as a possible platform for social mobility, and their skills in obtaining sponsorships for the holistic schooling of their learners, engenders a positive attitude towards female leadership and serves to eradicate much of the prejudice against their competencies. The threat of prejudice against female leaders is thus countered by approaches involving the establishment of positive relationships, the application of joint decision-making processes and an empathetic focus on the circumstances inhibiting learners' progress. The dogged pursuit of these approaches results in females being viewed as convincing school leaders who provide the most holistic education possible within their context to learners - elements which serve to help female leaders to survive and thrive.

Keywords : building relationships; female school leadership; joint decisionmaking; leadership prejudice; multiple deprivation; school leadership; stereotyping; supportive care.

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