Female school leaders suffer 'motherhood penalty'

 Research by The Future Leaders Trust suggests that becoming a parent has a negative effect on the careers of female school leaders but that men tend to benefit from becoming fathers.

This evidence suggests that there is a ‘motherhood penalty’ and a ‘fatherhood bonus’ in England’s schools that affects pay, attitudes and career.

Both men and women respondents perceive the ‘motherhood penalty’ that has a negative impact of motherhood on female school leaders:

•    Over 50% believe women’s pay is negatively affected;
•    60% believe women’s training opportunities are negatively affected;
•    Over 75% believe women’s promotion opportunities are negatively affected;
•    Over 75% believe women’s opportunities for additional responsibility are negatively affected
On reaching headship, mothers are more likely than fathers to start in the bottom third of the advertised pay range, while fathers are far more likely than mothers to start headship in the highest band. This reflects a pay imbalance seen between men and women more generally.

There are life impacts too, with some women feeling they were “sacrificing” motherhood for senior leadership positions. Nearly half of the female heads responding had one or no children, while over 80% of male head respondents have 2 or more children.

One female respondent wrote: “Being a senior leader is the biggest reason why I have not become a parent… I would be unable to give a child the attention and time they would require alongside my SLT duties.”

Men’s responses suggested a ‘fatherhood bonus’ and they were less likely to think being a parent had a negative impact on promotion and pay. Male heads were twice as likely as women to feel they were perceived positively by governors because they had children. They also reported benefits in how they were perceived by parents.

Many dads reflected on the experiences of their wives and female colleagues. One wrote: “I get far more kudos from being a ‘hands-on dad’ than my wife does.”

Kate Chhatwal, Chief Programme Officer at The Future Leaders Trust, said: “These findings help explain something we’ve seen across England’s schools: women find it hard to get to the top jobs and mothers can find it even harder.

“The negative perceptions around motherhood showed up in our research through a variety of ways, from sniping colleagues, to diminished salary and promotion opportunities. One woman spoke of pay being docked when she was off because her child had chickenpox, despite having an otherwise unblemished attendance record.

“This has to change. We need more heads who consciously act as role models by being great at their job and shaping it to fit their family commitments, changing school routines to make them compatible with the rhythms of family life. We can’t afford for our children to miss out on a pool of exceptional school leaders simply because leadership is seen as incompatible with being a parent.”

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