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Breaking the Bias: The Rural and Urban Divide

Breaking the Bias - The Rural and Urban Divide

By Susan Bradbeer  @sbradbeer

Women who lead in rural schools are doing an extraordinary job. But they encounter bias in the form of division between rural and urban expectations.

We have had enough of glass ceilings, jungle gyms, and elevators.

These metaphors that the corporate world have used to try and describe the career trajectory for women fall short of the lived experience of women in the workplace and more specifically do not speak to the experience of women who work in rural schools.

For educators who want to become leaders in rural schools, the process is complex. The journey is not linear. It is interrupted by the demands of family and home and requires flexibility and focus. Some women become leaders through a series of serendipitous moments of drift. Occasionally there is an intentional tap on the shoulder. However often the leadership journey for these women in rural schools is characterised by false starts and setbacks.

Women who lead in rural schools encounter an additional unique set of biases.

  • There is often a lack of time, as women balance managing a property and business, negotiating the rhythms of the land and local environment that might bring drought, bushfire, or disease.
  • There is a lack of mentors to support, guide and build leadership capacity. Often the teaching staff and local networks are small, and it is not uncommon for one leader to take on multiple roles.
  • The tyranny of distance forces women to contend with large distances travelled to work each day and even longer journeys to attend meetings and professional learning in the state capital, thus reinforcing the gap between the urban and rural.
  • High rates of teacher attrition are common in small rural schools and recruitment to the rural is a complex process. Retaining quality teachers in rural schools is an ongoing challenge.
  • In the past a lack of access to reliable technology has made it difficult for rural teachers to deliver the learning needs of students and access professional learning.

In Australia, women are underrepresented in educational leadership in general and this position is often exacerbated in rural schools. There is evidence to suggest that whilst the teaching profession in Australia, in both primary and secondary sectors, continues to be dominated by women, they are underrepresented in the leadership in education.

Rural women leaders in education are not adequately addressed in professional learning offerings or in documentation designed to prepare and train women for leadership. Aspiring women leaders are not equipped for the role. The contributions that women leaders in rural schools make to current debates in education are rarely heard and as a result they often undervalue their own experiences and ideas. Rural women are cautious when seeking opportunities to develop learning and leadership and are less motivated to foster and support other women in education. This situation needs to change.

This year International Women's Day recognises the need to break the bias. The question of how women become educational leaders in a rural context is a burgeoning research area of interest which I am exploring.

The rural is a context that matters.

Understanding the unique biases that impede women from becoming leaders in rural schools is vital. 

Let's stand together, #BreakTheBias and listen to the women in rural schools who become leaders and are making a difference.

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What will you do to #BreakTheBias?
Splintering gender bias by asking questions


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Thursday, 08 June 2023

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