UCS platform for women in leadership

UCS added another chapter to its long history as a pioneering school when it hosted the first in-person meeting of the Women in Senior Leadership Network (WiSL). This event was organised by Kirti Shah, UCS Teacher of Economics and Network Lead, and held in the Great Hall. Ms Shah explains its staging and significance to UCS.org.uk.

By Kirti Shah

We started WiSL so that women are encouraged to apply for senior leadership positions and, when they are promoted, they continue to be supported. Our idea is to use the experience of women from different schools across the independent sector to mentor each other and I match up mentors to mentees. They meet twice a term, usually on Zoom, and we expect their relationship to last a year to 18 months. Across the programme we have 160 people so far.

On Saturday 3rd September we welcomed 70 delegates to our Great Hall, including 10 UCS staff members and representatives of different schools, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) and a recruitment consulting partner for schools. At the end of the morning, colleagues left feeling inspired, supported and energised. It was fantastic for them to share experiences and learn so much from each other.

Our first speaker, Noelene Murphy, Director of Studies at City of London Boys School, shared her experience as a woman in leadership over the decades and how much progress and improvement has been made, but added that gender stereotypes persist in many arenas and should be called out. We then had discussion groups where, among other things, we asked whether women are at greater risk of burnout and imposter syndrome and what can be done to support them; whether mentoring should be gender neutral; and whether leadership actually means something different to women.

Claire Oulton, Head of Leadership Appointments at RSAcademics and formerly a headmistress of two schools by her early 30s, then took the podium: it was good to hear that people in senior leadership make mistakes too! Understanding the highs and lows of headship and the process of recruitment was eye opening.

UCS is about free-thinking, diversity, pushing forward, and of course, learning. So this network and event very much fitted with our values. We moved forward, together, and learnt from each other in a supportive environment.

The event really achieved its objectives: I hoped delegates would feel they could continue in their careers with our support and that there was someone they could reach out to. That very much happened, connections were made. People left thinking “I’m not alone” – colleagues can now draw on the wealth of experience out there. It went better than expected and the feedback … Well, one delegate said the event was “life-changing”. Wow.

We will definitely have another gathering next year!

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