Q&A: How can I create more opportunities for women as an educator?

Question:

In my society, women are not given higher positions even when she has quality, talent, and education. I want to be one of the people who can give leadership to women so they can stand on their feet. I am the owner and principal of a school. It is my soul. I am trying to make it better. What kinds of steps shall I take for its betterment? What do I have to do to become a successful businesswoman?

— Dedicated Educator and Leader in India

Answer:

Dear friend,

Your work with children is commendable. They need your time, your leadership, and your belief in their abilities. You have risen to this challenge and they, as well as your community, will surely benefit.

Your question raises three distinct but all very important questions which I will generalize a bit here:

  1. How can women succeed in a society that does not value them?
  2. How can I improve my organization so that it can have a stronger impact in the lives of children?
  3. What can I do to improve my own leadership and business skills to positively impact my school and my society?

These are all very complex dilemmas that impact women and leaders around the world. I wish that I could provide you with a simple, direct answer to these questions, but I don’t think I could fully answer these questions because 1) I don’t have all the answers; and 2) it would take a lifetime of studying, dialogue, and practice to discover the best approaches; and 3) I am not very familiar with your particular community and the specific challenges you face there. Nonetheless, I am going to provide you with some ideas that I think might be helpful not just for you but for the entire Women’s Creative Leadership Network.

Women are undervalued in many organizations and societies — in different ways and to various extents. I can identify with this challenge because I have witnessed and experienced this in my own country. We can be inspired by many examples throughout history, both in the past and more recently, of women beating the odds and attitudes about women evolving to become more understanding and inclusive. Yet, we still have quite a way to go.

There are a few things we can do, as women, to succeed despite the fact that we are undervalued in society. One of the key things we can to do to provoke transformation is to work together. We are stronger together than we are on our own. I have seen women turn against each other in competition to the detriment of our collective goals. We must support each other, uplift each other, and defend each other for our common good. My advice to you would be to connect with other women, share your struggles, ask for assistance, be helpful when you can, and have conversations about how you can collaborate. As we work on our own personal advancement, we must also stay focused on the bigger vision of creating opportunities for all women. Our success doesn’t need to come at someone else’s expense. We must also be steadfast in our insistence for rights, access, acceptance, inclusion, and appreciation of our contributions. When we are told directly or hear implicit messages that women are not good enough, we need to take action because we know better and the world will benefit from this knowledge. As women leaders, we need to actively educate and also stand as an example through our words and actions.

You do this all of this as an educator and as a leader. People look to you for guidance, wisdom, and support. By strengthening your school, you will also be able to address the needs of women in society. You can improve your school by: assessing what you need in terms of curriculum, facilities, materials, and support; developing partnerships in the community to improve the school’s access to what it needs; inviting parents and others in the community to get involved in the school through volunteer service that meet the school’s specific needs; remaining focused on your goals of providing a high quality education to your students; and continuing to learn about how other schools are addressing the challenges you are experiencing by reading and by making connections with your colleagues both in your country and around the world (you might be able to make some connections through the network). These are just a few ideas that may or may not be helpful depending on your particular circumstances.

And now for your final question. As an educator, you probably love to learn! To be a successful businesswoman, you need to never stop learning. You can learn by reading, participating in classes, reflecting on your experiences, and observing what other leaders in similar environments are doing. It is helpful to identify specific things that you need to learn and then seek that information, but another important part of learning is continually being open to receiving and re-interpreting information. There is so much that goes into being a good businesswoman, such as making good decisions, effectively managing resources, developing the right relationships, and taking care of yourself. Continue to practice and learn and your leadership and business potential will develop over time.

I hope these suggestions are helpful, and are the beginning of a conversation about how we can all create more opportunities for women in our societies. I invite all of our readers to share their ideas.