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Managing to Lead: Women Managers in the Further Education sector.

Managing to Lead: Women Managers in the Further Education sector.

Farzana Shain

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Sussex at Brighton, September 2 - 5 1999


This paper explores the relationship between gender and management in the recently incorporated Further Education (FE) sector with specific reference to the experiences of women managers. Six years on from incorporation, funding constraints coupled with increased workloads and decreased pay have placed considerable strain on the FE sector in terms of its industrial relations (Burchill 1998) Low staff moral amid widespread allegations of bullying, sleaze and serious financial mismanagement have led to calls for greater accountability within the system (Hodge 1998). This comes at a time when over half of colleges are reported to be operating at a loss with 21 % considered to be ’financially weak’ (FEFC Council News 6 October 1997, no 41).

Given its multiple restructuring along market and managerial lines essentially on the principle of ‘more for less’, FE shares much in common with public sector elsewhere in the UK and global economy (Ethworthy and Halford 1999) However, what distinguishes FE from other sectors is the widespread exodus of staff from the sector with over a fifth of the teaching workforce being made redundant or retiring early since colleges left local authority control in 1993 (TES). This has been accompanied by a 32% turnover in Principals between 1993-96 following a wave post incorporation retirements (FEFC 1998). That a greater number of women should be recruited to management positions (Stott and Lawson 1997) at this time, raises questions about what this means for issues of gender, work and organisation in FE. For example, are new organisational spaces being created for women that facilitate and even validate women’s preferred styles of management (Newman 1994)? Or is FE being re-masculinsed with women concentrated primarily in middle management carrying the burden of transformation in the sector (Pritchard et al 1998)? Or are we witnessing an identity shift with women adopting more masculine approach to work (Yeatman 1995; Whitehead 1998).

It is not possible to answer these questions in their full complexity from within such a small scale project because there a larger economic and social processes that need to be analysed. However, by drawing on data collected as part of wider ESRC funded project, Changing Teaching and Managerial Cultures in FE (CTMC), this paper offers a contribution to a small but growing debate focusing on the relationship between gender, management and organisational cultures within FE (Pritchard, Deem and Ozga 1998; Whitehead 1998; Cole 1998; Deem and Ozga 1996a&b. The CTMC project is concerned with the impact of the 1992 Further and Higher (FHE) Act on the local and institutional level of FE through a case study of five colleges. Specifically, the research seeks to understand the way that work and identity are being re-shaped through processes of incorporation and marketisation in this sector. This particular paper takes an in-depth look at the accounts of 23 white ‘middle’ and ‘senior’ managers and explores conceptions of work and identity in the post-incorporated FE sector. It builds on earlier work (Gleeson and Shain 1999a &b) that looks more generally at new and changing managerial roles within the FE sector. Throughout the paper the term senior manager is used to refer to those operating at executive level on senior management teams or groups and includes vice principals and principals. The term middle manager is employed to denote those who occupy a broad range of positions termed variously within their institutions as programme sector or school head, curriculum/programme leaders, managers and developers and cross-college co-ordinators whose work often involves a combination of management and teaching. Before moving on the consider the implications of this gender re-ordering (Pritchard, Deem and Ozga 1998), at the local level in the further Education sector, it would be useful to briefly outline the policy context that has given rise to it.

The changing policy context of FE

Further Education is large sector catering for over 4 million students and employing over 220,000 staff (FEFC 1998a&b). The 1992 FHE Act (the framework of which was laid in the 1988 Education Reform Act) brought about a number of system changes. Underpinned by notions of economic rationalism and competitive individualism these changes have characterised much of educational policy reform over the last two decades and effectively ‘marketised’ education (see Avis et al 1996).

Specifically the 1992 FHE Act reduced the power and control of LEAs by granting colleges their independent corporate status with effect from April 1993. Colleges of FE were reconstituted as autonomous education and training enterprises run by non-elected governing bodies with a dominant (50%) business membership(1).

The Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) a government quango was set up to administer funds through a new funding mechanism based on the ‘more for less’ principle and to ensure the ‘adequacy and sufficiency’ of provision to the sector.

Independence from local authority control has also led to a re-designation of roles and responsibilities with colleges taking liability for systems and functions such as finance and personnel previously the domain of the local authority. As senior management teams become increasingly pre-occupied with such issues as finance and the (re-)definition and communication of strategic aims and objectives to staff on a regular basis, other duties including the day to day management of people, budget control, income generation and their associated stresses and pressures have been ‘pushed further down the line’ (Watkins 1993) to the ‘bufferzone’ of middle management (Gleeson and Shain 1999a; Ozga and Walker 1999). This ambiguous territory involves the mediation of tensions and conflicts in the FE workplace in an environment that is characterised by rapid and unpredictable change and uncertainty. New funding arrangements have also intensified competition between colleges schools and other providers encouraging College management teams to pay attention to the physical and corporate appeal of their institutions in an attempt to attract potential students. Cost-cutting, delayering and reorganisation mean that self-regulation and the ‘management of insecurity’ (Bourdieu 1998) has become an integral feature of the FE work environment.

As argued elsewhere (see Shain and Gleeson 1999) this restructuring of FE education along market and managerial lines has much to do with wider educational reform and sustained attack on teacher professionalism based on conservative government’s low trust model of accountability and continues through to New Labour’s consensual ‘third way’. While this is high on the rhetoric of inclusivity, partnership and social justice, it maintains a commitment to a fiscally driven reform agenda in FE. Managerial reform of FE through the discourses of Total Quality and Human Resources Management has brought the discipline of the market into the workplace and greatly increased the regulation and intensification of education work (Esland 1996). It has also created a ‘performance’ culture in which certain measurable objectives (for example, recruitment targets and retention rates) that are underpinned by the values of competitiveness and efficiency and economy come to define the ‘business of FE’ (Ainley and Bailey). The implications of this for management is that it leads to a ‘performative management culture’ (see Kerfoot and Knights 1993; duGay 1996) that rewards managers who ‘get things done’ or who ‘carry off certain objectives’ above experience, age, seniority gender or ethnicity. However, far from being gender-neutral this is a culture that Halford, Savage and Witz (1997) have argued ‘depends on a particular configuration of relationships between home and work which valorises the independent, lone individual with no other commitments. This has the de facto effect of making it difficult for people, especially women, who value other aspects of their lives or who have domestic responsibilities they do not wish to or are not able to avoid, from playing a leading role in the organisations concerned’(pp264-265). It is against this background that the recent challenge to men’s numerical dominance in FE management needs to be analysed.

Changing management cultures - women at the top?

According to a survey carried out by FEDA (Stott and Lawson 1997), more women than men (554: 410) have been recruited into management positions since 1993. The survey sampled 3,000 managers in over 250 of 452 FE colleges in England and Wales. At the end of 1997 there were 81 women principals 17% of Principals compared to just 3% in 1990. This compares favourably with wider figures on women in employment that indicate just 4 % of women in England and Wales reach senior executive position and 5 % in European Union countries (Davidson 1997:10). Such figures also represent a challenge to men’s historical numerical dominance in FE management (see Pritchard et al 1998 for a discussion). However, women continue to constitute the majority of the workforce in FE as is the case in both primary and secondary education where men outnumber women in senior positions in a predominantly female workforce. In FE, it also the case that women are found predominantly in the lower levels of middle management (4th tier and below) where they comprise 50-60% of this level of the workforce compared with under 20% at the very top (FEDA 1997). There are number of competing interpretations of what this changing statistical picture signals for gender relations, management and organisational cultures in further education.

Whitehead (1996; 1998; Kerfoot and Whitehead 1998) suggests that the FE environment that women enter into as managers has been re-masculinised and is characterised by an insecure environment that reinforces and validates men’s sense of having to become more competitive. This aggressive and competitive masculinity (a ‘boys’ own’ culture) presents a challenge to an earlier FE environment that was marked by a ‘benign liberal paternalism’ (Kerfoot and Whitehead 1998:437). This new instrumental and competitive arena privileges aggressive behaviours that are indulged in predominantly by men. Women are not exempt from this culture but in order to succeed they must reconstruct themselves in a masculinised fashion. Whithead (1998) contends that like many men, women are also being seduced by the existential pull of management. In the search for ontological security he argues that work is beginning to replace other forms of security and identity found more traditionally in family and home for these women.

The competitive and instrumental arena that Whitehead refers to, has similarities with the ‘competitive’ organisational culture that Newman (1994) sees as a feature of the new public management of the public sector. Drawing on imagery of how the business world works, this competitive organisational culture privileges cut-throat, macho or ‘cowboy’ styles of working. Newman argues, ‘It is as if the unlocking of the shackles of bureaucratic constraints had at last allowed managers to become ‘real men’ operating in the ‘real world’ of the market place, and released from the second-class status of public sector functionaries’ (Newman 1994:p194).

For Newman the public sector also contains another variant that is developing greater salience in the public sector as it recovers from the impoverishment of the Thatcher years and attempts to rebuild cultures delivering quality services. This model ‘transformational culture’ is primarily concerned with the empowerment of staff. Within this organisational culture leaders are expected to communicate missions and visions. Newman argues that the emphasis on cultural change ‘offers the possibility of new ways of doing things, and perhaps offers new organisational space for women. There is a recognition of the need to change the values and styles of management with a greater emphasis on the ‘soft skills; (communicating with, staff and customers) at which women excel (ibid, p196)

For Pritchard, Deem and Ozga (1998) however, it is the concentration women at the lower levels of middle management especially as programme or curriculum managers that is of significance. Due to the multiple restructuring against the background of funding constraints they suggest that women could be argued to be more vulnerable to ‘carrying the burden’ of transformation as they engage in both the tasks of teaching and management. Drawing on the work of Yeatman (1995) and Casey (1995,6) and Ozga and Deem (1996a &b) they suggest that processes of cultural change are currently in train in the tertiary sector that contain both progressive and inclusive elements and apparently coincide with feminist agendas and with women’s preferred styles of management; but, also challenge women’s principles by implicating them in corporate managerialist and economic rationalist led policy making.

Cole (1998) argues that the decline in traditional craft industries and the ascendance of the service sector is one possible explanation for the increasing participation of women in further education both as students and staff. This shift was occurring prior to incorporation but was given further impetus through incorporation when colleges were pushed to go for growth. This has encouraged colleges to employ more women on service industry related courses opening up further opportunities for them to aim towards management positions. Based on current trends in the sector and with the younger profile of women senior managers in mind, she argues women leaving their posts are highly likely to be replaced by other women creating a ‘snowballing’ effect.

In the section which follows I draw on data from the CTMC project to explore some of these various interpretations. I focus primarily on issues how women manage and are seen to manage (particularly at the higher levels of their organisations) and the concept of ‘career planning’. These areas are critical in terms of understanding whether there has been a re-masculinsation of the FE work environment or whether the increase in senior women in management signals a shift towards more feminised or transformational management styles that present a challenge the ‘boy’s own culture’ that that is said to exist in the sector (Kerfoot and Whitehead 1998). The second area of ‘career’ is important because if women are beginning to engage in planning their careers and are actively seeking further promotion this may also signal an identity shift towards a more masculinsed approach to their work.

Women managing to lead?

As stated earlier, this paper draws on the accounts of 23 middle and senior managers Fieldwork was conducted between January 1997 and 1998 during the critical transition from Conservative to New Labour control of education. In all, over 150 interviews were conducted with key individuals across 5 FE institutions including governors, teachers, support staff and union representatives in addition to senior and middle managers. The colleges were selected from 3 counties across middle England. They included 2 large colleges one of which was inner city location two mid-size colleges in a town centre and suburban setting the fifth institution was a small sixth from college was situated in a small rural town community. This paper draws primarily though not exclusively on the accounts of 23 women managers.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with all 10 senior managers (including 2 principals and 1 vice-principal) in post at the time of interviewing. Thirteen academic middle managers were selected from a wider sample of middle managers. All were white which is not unrepresentative of the wider picture in FE (e.g. 98% of FEDA respondents were white). Unlike the women interviewed by Deem and Ozga (1996a and b) in their study of feminist academic managers in F/HE the women in the CTMC project held a range of political views and opinions. The women interviewed ranged from those effectively downplayed or denied the sexism of the system and their colleagues (Marshall 1993) ( eg ‘I’ve only ever been a women; I don’t know what it’s like to be a man’) to those who saw gender as a fundamental organising principle in their work and spoke of sexualisation and eroticisation of their positions within the organisations (Hearn and Parkin 1991) ( eg ‘the behaviour of my male colleagues borders on harassment [it’s] the way they look at my body and what I wear; the way I walk, the way I move’)

Gender, management and organisational cultures - women at the very top.

At the time of conducting the research there had been considerable turnover in senior personnel in all the colleges and the majority of senior managers interviewed were relatively new to their current positions. Four out of the five colleges had appointed new principals during the period 1995-7; two of these were women. The majority of men and women mangers characterised their own styles as ‘participative’, ‘open’ ‘consultative’ but an analysis of the way management styles are viewed by others presents a more revealing picture of the changing nature of the relationship between gender, management and organisational cultures. An interesting theme emerging from data analysis was that in the comparison of management styles of old and new guard of principals, the previous regime was characterised in highly masculine terms. Though there were variations, the terms overwhelmingly used to described two of the out-going principals and one outgoing vice-principal (all men) included - ‘brutal’, ‘aggressive’ ‘unwilling to listen’, distant’; bombastic:

[the teachers] didn’t trust him, didn’t like him; he didn’t like them, he told them so. He didn’t go to speak with them. ……. There was a fear. [He] would storm around the place if he was angry and people would be threatened. He threatened me a number of times. ‘If I ever did that again you’ll see what reference you’ll get from me’. Oh [..] some wonderful stuff ; he knew I wanted to move on. (Monica; middle manager)

the principal we had was arrogant, bombastic, authoritarian. As far as he was concerned we all pulled together. If you didn’t well hard luck in fact hard luck, we’ll cast you adrift. ((Robert; lecturer)

The other out-going principal was commonly described as ‘a shy intellectual man’ but nonetheless as a ‘distant’ principal who was not readily accessible in comparison to the incoming female principal. This ‘aggressive’; ‘hard line’ and confrontational style was not necessarily restricted to men as the description below of a woman senior manager’s suggests:

….. she was just amazing. She was like some sort of awful fairy tale character, like the Ice Queen or something. I would sit in meetings with her where she would..... people would be frightened to make eye contact because you knew if you made eye contact with her she would get you for something........ She was in charge of things like the enrolments and the prospectus and everything and getting people in so we had this ridiculous situation at one point where we were having to enrol all through the summer five or six days a week from 9.00 am until 9.00 pm. Oldhill is Oldhill and it doesn’t value education and people certainly aren’t going to come out on the August Bank holiday on a Saturday to enrol for a course but we had to sit there. The amount of staff who sat doing nothing Saturday after Saturday and they would come and march around the enrolment hall and shout at you if you had your sleeves rolled up or if you were looking a bit sloppy or if you had got a drink. You had to hide your drink, your coffee under the desk and everything because it didn’t look good and it was very much ‘the customer’ also you didn’t talk about students. You didn’t talk about desks you talked about work stations so we had work stations and customers and all this sort of jargon that was just clients. It was so peculiar but she [ ] used to really really frighten people and I have sat in meetings where everybody has just sat and looked at the table because you knew if you made...... she would say "and what you have done? Have you done this properly? What are your figures like?" Louise (middle manager)

What is particularly interesting about the above is the gender specific imagery of the fairy tale ‘ice queen’ character that is drawn on to describe the approach of this woman senior manager. It suggests that the militaristic language that is widely drawn on both in the language of strategy (Mahony 1997) in FE and in describing the particular styles of ‘oppressive’ men mangers is does not lend itself easily to the description of such ‘hard line’ or ‘confrontational’ women. As Marian Court (cited in Sachs and Blackmore p272) argues, such confrontational or angry women are typically described in different ways to comparable men) dragons, spitfires, bitches, nags or as sharp tongued, cruelly nasty, whiningly unpleasant or persistently annoying.

In terms of organisational cultures the above account conveys a sense of the oppressive environment that some workers were forced to (and in many cases continue to) endure during this early period of incorporation. Here the drive to recruit and enrol students was being pursued aggressively at the expense of workers conditions in the context of a wider ‘macho’ managerial competitive culture (Whitehead 1996; Newman 1994). As Denis Gleeson and I (1999b) have argued the hegemony of this style was not complete and there existed a variety of management styles and techniques that posed a threat to its dominance. In the drive to gain competitive advantage there was often a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of their local communities. This suggests that many (though by no means all) of the early or first wave of principals and senior managers (with little or no business training) were ill-equipped to deal with demands of the newly incorporated sector. Their temptations to ‘play the market’ have contributed to widespread images of sleaze and corruption in the media. By contrast the ‘newer’ breed of senior staff are better versed in the ‘business of FE ‘ (Ainley and Bailey) adopt a more cautious and apparently ‘inclusive’ approach (see Gleeson and Shain 1999b for a discussion).

The newer guard of principals and senior managers in the CTMC project appointed during 1995-7 period were predominantly characterised by organisational others as ‘open’ ‘willingness to listen’ ‘approachable’, ‘energetic’, visible, team building, collaborate, visionary (though again the extent to which this was a shared view among staff varied from one college to another). Such terms reflect the language of corporate culture as advocated by management gurus such as Peters (1992) (see Salaman 1997 for a discussion). Corporate culture advocates endorse apparently softer more feminised approaches to management because these are seen to be more effective, more productive in binding individuals to the corporate aims and objectives of the organisation. In FE this a particularly important task since managers are expected to achieve this binding of the individual within the context of a particularly fractured environment following a waive of industrial action and low staff morale over pay and conditions (Gleeson and Shain 1999). The accounts below describing the styles of female principals reveal that despite the continued pressures associated with diminishing resources such ‘feminine’ styles appear to have been welcomed as an alternative to previously oppressive or ‘distant’ cultures and would appear to display the characteristic signs of ‘transformational managers’ (Maddock 1999; Newman 1994) :

Now [New Principal] has been here for eight weeks and she has been like a thunderbolt. It has been enlightening. She’s been wonderful. She has put a bit of electric into the system. There is a buzz. I know a lot of people would disagree with me because they don’t like change but I find it quite exciting. She has got people recognising their roles. She is very much into accountability which the old Principal wasn’t and that was very frustrating to people like me. I can only see a positive future. (Karen, Programme manager)

I believe the atmosphere has changed now we have got a new Principal who is willing to go and talk with people, listen to what they have got to say I look forward to a new change, I see change in peoples attitudes and already there is a lightness around the place.(Monica, Curriculum director)

A breath of fresh air. She is enlightened; she is open; she is accessible. (William; lecturer)

…..she comes across as a very reasonable person. Somebody who is prepared to listen to what you have to say and take on board what you have to say. She also strikes me as quite a strong person. I think she can stand up to people because there are issues that are way beyond [our] college (Stuart; middle manager).

In outlining her own management style, Maria, a recently appointed principal, suggests that this approach is both overtly and uniquely feminine and contains transformational possibilities. Here she connects what she sees as the ‘woman’s touch’ to a management style characterised by inclusivity:

...the issue of gender is important whether you want it or not. It isn’t the only factor but it is an important ingredient and it goes from walking around and saying ‘this place is dirty’ and I have been told, ‘we can see already there is a woman at the helm because it (the college) is much cleaner’. The other thing is about touch. Women have less difficulty touching whilst they are talking and I know that I touch. I don’t necessarily do it consciously but I have been told I do. The other thing is the ability to operate it through four different levels simultaneously because I have brought three children up and prepared the evening meal and prepared classes simultaneously and, therefore, the awareness of the skills that you pick up of having been a housewife and mother. I think that is mixed in with the human concern. (Maria. Principal).

While Maria sees this as an overtly ‘womanly’ approach, evidence from the study suggests that men too adopt this more feminised, inclusive style. For example Jim a recently appointed principal in a college facing financial difficulty (and one that had been described as aggressive, macho in its previous organisational culture) was described in the following terms:

It has become much more open and I think when the new chap, Jim came it was one of his policies that the management style would be much more open and it is now…… He mixes with the staff. He comes into the refectory. He will sit and have his lunch with you if he is sitting there. He knows who people are. He has been around lots and lots of classes and met lots of students and spent time with them and talked with them. He has been out to all the local schools. He has made links with the local schools trying to repair the damage that has been done and I think you could send him an E Mail and know that he wouldn’t be cross and he replies to E Mails’ as well which is absolutely amazing’ (Louise; middle manager)

This account reveal that a more apparently inclusive and emergent feminine style of management is characteristic of FE management in the CTMC project. This apparent feminine approach is further supported by evidence of networking and collaboration between colleges in one areas. In the context of wider Dearing, Kennedy and Hodge agendas (emphasising widened participation, inclusivity and partnership) it is tempting to view this as an emergent feminine style that presents a real challenge to the hegemony of the masculine or ‘boy’s own’ culture. However, in spite of official discourses of collaboration and partnership, New Labour remains committed to the previous government’s principle of ‘more for less’. Within managerialist discourses such as performativity managers (men and women) often find themselves having to promote the managerial ‘bottom-line’. There are also continued reports both within the project and in the media of bullying indicating that the macho style is alive and well (TES 6/08/99). What this means is that current FE sector is characterised by competing organisational cultures that manifest themselves in the tensions between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ versions of new managerialism (Legge 1995). Such tensions are ‘lived’ by women managers as they attempt to balance to needs of individuals and their emotions in their institutions with the need to ‘get things done’ . Here Maria speaks of a situation in which she had to deal with the family of a recently deceased member of staff:

so I took personal responsibility of speaking to the press on this issue of writing to the family and to the staff who had known this member of staff and going around and talking to them, arm around when necessary. In terms of dealing with staff, inevitably that is the same thing, that has to be me. It is knowing which things you can delegate and which you shouldn’t shirk, which you take a big deep breath and deal with and doing it very very.... both balancing the humane and the need to do something. The other thing is keeping in touch with mentors outside the organisation. You can’t have an internal mentor. You can consult with your colleagues and ask them for advice but you can’t give innermost feelings to them. People always tell me it is lonely at the top and it probably is but I have been too busy to feel it. There have been situations where I have picked up the phone and spoken to friends and said can I just talk to you about this and get a dispassionate view .

Such accounts suggest ‘that women in traditional male positions are faced with the dilemma of balancing rationality as demanded by institutional norms, and the effective dimension of emotionality, which for them is a preferred mode of negotiating social situations’ (Sachs and Blackmore 1998:269). Maria’s case here indicates that she is expected to be good at handling people and their emotions and to provide the nourishing emotions of care, warmth and patience which maintain the ‘greedy organisations’ (that demand more and more of an employees time and emotional commitment to work). However, she must remain firmly in control of her own emotions. To display these even in justifiable contexts would invite characterisations of her as ‘‘weak’, non- rational or psychologically inadequate’ (Blackmore 1998; Sachs and Blackmore 1998) . This tension between the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’, (the rational and emotional) could also be said to penetrate the roles that women and men are assigned to in FE management. Despite an increase in the number of women recruited to senior executive management positions, women in FE and certainly in the CTMC project are overwhelmingly concentrated in particular roles (curriculum, human resources, student services and marketing) that are seen as ‘softer’ within FE organisations. Set against the discourse of performativity it is the ‘hard’ functions of estates and finance that are see to constitute the ‘core’ business of FE. The following account presents an alternative interpretation of this categorisation:

Hilary … I think if you look around the FE sector you will probably find that a lot of the senior women managers have got Curriculum or Human Resources or Marketing and Public Relations types of roles which are seen as possibly as the ‘softer roles’ rather than Finance or Management Information Systems or Estates or those kinds of areas……

FS And how do you feel about it being labelled as being softer? ….

Hilary I think it is wrong because I think the core things to do with the college are really the curriculum and the students. [Emma] is responsible for the curriculum and I am responsible for the all the student activities so she and I who are both women have got, as far as I’m concerned, the two core roles in the organisation and therefore the other roles which are occupied by our male colleagues are the supporting roles, the Finance, the Human Resources and the Estates. I think [..] ours are the two most crucial roles and the most critical ones and we have actually.......... both are women in those roles.

Not only are women found predominantly in these roles but they remain in the minority in senior management positions (in the CTMC project women were outnumbered by men (2:1) and as the wider FE picture reveals the majority of women managers find themselves located in middle management particularly at the lower levels (Pritchard, Deem and Ozga 1998).

Doing the ‘dirty’ work - middle managers

As suggested above, middle management is characterised by extreme ambiguity and compounded by vulnerability (Gleeson and Shain 1999a). Middle managers have ‘to manage not just budgets and people, in the pursuit of greater efficiency, but also the tensions and dilemmas of rapid and unpredictable change ‘ (Clarke and Newman 197:x).; they buffer potential conflict between senior managers and teachers and mediate different tensions between colleagues and also between funding and curriculum. While inclusivity and partnership define the discursive reality of senior management (though not unchallenged), middle management is the site where tensions, stress and examples of bullying behaviour proliferate. This would suggests that ‘crisis and stress are increasingly being pushed further down the line’ (Watkins 1993) and it precisely here that the majority of the women who have been recruited to management positions since 1993 are located (FEDA 1997; Pritchard et al 1998).

The ambiguity referred to above, produced a range of responses and work identities among middle managers in he CTMC project with some managers identifying closely with corporate line of their respective organisations and others adopting more strategic compliant approach in which public sector values of educational and student commitment (Gleeson and Shain 1999a). Despite the existence of a wide range of identities , managers spoke of a common feeling of vulnerability that characterised the experience of being ‘caught in the middle’. This was in part due the fact that much of the unpopular restructuring that was ongoing at the time of research was focused at this level. In Oldhill college for example, nearly 200 redundancy notices, the majority of which were middle management positions. This constant reorganisation and restructuring means that managers live in the fear that they could be ‘restructured out’ of the organisation. As one ex-chair of governors stated ‘these jobs did not exist prior to incorporation so nothing is really being changed’. The implication being that such workers are not indispensable because of the funding situation in FE:

It is a difficult time in FE anyway as you know because of the funding situation and the fear of the changes well everybody is watching their back. [Oldhill] is in a bad situation. [Northwood] , the new Principal is taking out a whole layer and then there is the fear she will work down. [my principal] has said that she won’t make any redundancies but you don’t know. Things may change……(Monica: middle manager)

In such a highly insecure environment where there is considerable ambiguity over status and roles, managers may revert to using particular forms of aggressive and confrontational masculinity to deal with such insecurities as the following accounts suggest (referring to the same man manager):

Well what we have got is we have got somebody who has come in I mean the ethos of the college is not one of fear but we have got somebody who has come in and basically he is a control person but he thinks he is a democratic leader……… (Belinda: middle manager)

I had to establish that I wasn’t his secretary. I had to establish that I was his equal... I am more than capable of doing that but I find that I have to keep that in check all the time so I have laid down the foundation, the ground rules but I can do that because I am not a subordinate. I am an equal but I do find that it is a stress for me because I am caught between staff who I like and unfair behaviour. I do believe that if you are a middle manager you do have to do that dirty job of actually, if there is something going wrong and there are students who aren’t getting their fair share really, client thing aside and you think to yourself as a parent, as a mother would I want this and that things are going on and you do have to go and say "Look this isn’t on. Come on you know that is not right. What are we going to do about it?" and that is very very difficult but I think by adding an element of aggression it just makes it worse. Of course it does. It is nonsensical. (Isabel: middle manager)

The ‘dirty job’ of middle management to which Isabel refers means that many women are working extremely long hours to balance various demands of teaching, management and other responsibilities. Some of the women interviewed spoke of stress and pressure caused by trying to complete these various tasks to the best of their ability which inevitably created an ‘overspill’ into home life. Women managers spoke of working an average of 10-15 hours longer than men each week and for this was tied to the desire to achieve further promotion suggesting a possible shift twoards a msculine approach to work. Others however, referred to a ‘ streak of perfectionism’ as a characteristic of women’s approach that is element of women’s working styles. Brenda and Hilary below for example talk of the way that women’s ability to deal with a number of things and their willingness to work hard mean they are ‘ripe’ for potential exploitation

….you can rule me out of court completely but I’ve seen women mangers at middle management and senior level cope better will all this change.. women can juggle more things in the air and be more flexible it’s never been proven but it’s a question that is continually asked, women to be more adaptable. Women have to be adaptable, ….it could be why there are a lot more women principals and a lot more senior managers now. The communication of team working that is necessary as a result of incorporation. …….I get the difficult jobs to do here, internally in terms of communicating with staff… and the individual about being …the …appropriate way with people. Would you call it exploitation; I think sometimes it is exploitation and sometimes I think it is because of management and personnel (Brenda Vice: principal)

One of the positive things about [previous principal] was that he liked working with women and we also had a Finance Director[******} who liked working with women but the reason why [this man] liked working with woman was that he said that he felt that woman felt they had got to prove themselves and therefore if you paid a woman a certain amount of money to do the job the same amount as you would pay a man you would get more out of the woman because they would be trying harder to prove themselves and therefore he liked working with woman because he thought financially they were a good thing to have. He got more out of them for the same money. (Hilary, senior manager)

A number of women complained that they were paid less than their male peers for carrying out comparable work and in Monica’s case excluded from the senior executive level despite being a ‘director’ and paid less men at the same level:

My Line Manager [****] tells me that I am ‘higher up’ than Heads of Sector but am an in between but I know from the pay structure that I am not. I believe, I haven’t got actual evidence but I believe that I am probably one of the more lower paid of all of them. I want to know where I stand really…..I put it down to the views of the previous Principal who, in my view did not particularly want to promote women. I always felt that and I always felt at management team I was invisible and that anything, there was only three of us there as you saw and whenever we said anything it was always "Oh is she going to be long"? whereas if any of the guys said anything it was "That is a really good point" and that used to........ and he always talked about "Come on you chaps". The gender was always male and his words were..... so I was very pleased when we appointed a new Principal as a women. She is very good but I did feel marginalised and irritated because I had done a lot of good work and I never felt the recognition the was there and I don’t want people to thank me or pat me on the back but just a slight " You really did well on that" would help now and again you know, so I look forward to working with [the new principal] and taking up opportunities she may offer to widen my experience so that I can put that on a curriculum vitae and take it to another place.

From the above account it can be seen women managers such as Monica see the appointment of women principals as a positive move towards redressing issues of gender discrimination at work. For women principals this effectively places a ‘burden of representation’ on them since their presence signals on the one hand that other women too can ‘make it to the top’ but can also dissuade women from seeking further promotion because they see through the experiences of such women the contradictions and tensions that area central feature of working within highly competitive and masculine cultures.

Changing conceptions of career: routes to promotion

The majority of participants in the research (men and women) when talking about their backgrounds, considered that they had ‘fallen’ into FE more by accident than by design. However, women were more likely than men to make reference to career breaks (e.g. to have children). Such reference supports Ozga’s assertion (1993:1) that ‘women do not have access to the experience of unilinear career progression open to men, nor do they choose to pursue such limited versions of career development. In common with Stott and Lawson’s study (1997: 110) women senior managers and especially principals have not as a rule planned their careers over the long term; however, recent career moves have more commonly been planned. As Wendy explains,

I am great fatalist. I always knew I wanted to teach. I always thought I would like to be a Principal. I knew I would not be able to do what [female vice-chancellors] have done because I didn’t have that kind of background but I, equally so I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in schools so I think probably I started planning probably about 5 years ago let’s say, to this kind of goal but up until them I was just anxious to get what I could earn for myself [..] and gather qualifications as I went along.

Although she had only begun to plan her career in the last five years her advice to new entrants in the profession was indeed to have a goal:

……I would say to anybody ’I think you ought to know what your goal is, you asked me if I knew what my goal was and I probably didn’t. I have had short term goals I suppose but I think somebody coming in ought to know why they are coming in. (Wendy, Principal)

At the senior levels there was evidence of recent career planning that matched Wendy’s approach, Maria for example had chosen her particular college with a view to getting a national job before she retired This indicates an identity shift and presents a challenge for research that suggests women are not career planners. Monica, referred to earlier in the paper adopted a particularly masculine approach with her husband preparing her meals so that she could actively pursue further promotion. There was also some evidence that networking was occurring and senior managers were approaching women principals for advice on how to proceed. However there was also evidence to suggest that other women (especially those occupying the lower levels of management) were less likely to have planned their careers and indeed some confessed that they would not have actively sought promotion had they not been invited to do so by their line managers. Many women in the project adopted a rather cautious approach to further promotion as the next section reveals.

Why women say ‘stuff it’ to promotion

Alimo-Metcalf (1992, 1995) has argued that women managers are tempted by posts which are interesting and involve their personal development and are motivated by organisational goals rather than by the promise of promotion. They tend to seek self and organisational improvements indicating that many women are focused on change and transformation as well as career development. this argument can be illustrated through the account below where Angela, a programme developer explains that in leaving her current post she is accepting a pay-cut because she prioritises personal development over further promotion in her current institution.

I would have liked to have earned the same money but I am prepared to earn less money because, I think the job is sufficiently interesting and challenging and I think it is going to be rewarding enough and I see it as perhaps something I will do for two years and then maybe I will move to something wider. There are other jobs that I have been looking at and I was actually asked for an interview for a job which in the end I decided not to go for the interview for because I thought, they think on paper that I can do this job I am not convinced I can until I have had more experience then I thought I would like to do it but I want to do it in a couple of years time when I have done things like got myself trained. (Angela, Middle manager)

Such accounts are supported by other evidence in the literature surrounding the idea of ‘career concept’. This indicates that women and men seem to hold different career concepts with women seen to rate self-development, satisfaction, self-fulfilment and the desire for challenge more highly than promotion (Stott and Lawson 1997:5) More recent research suggests that such ‘choices’ can be explained by refernce to the complex interrelationship between a variety of institutional cultures that both facilitate and mitigate against women’s promotion to leadership postions (Bolton and Coldron 1998). Sachs and Blackmore (1998:267) identify these as ‘structural factors’ arguing that ‘particular dominant organisational cultures, images of leadership and perceptions of administrative work and professional cultures may exclude or unequally integrate women, individually or collectively’. In other words, organisational cultures contain, both enabling factors, that facilitate women accessing leadership positions or conditions in a specific work context that may encourage women to apply for formal leadership positions; but also disabling factors that prevent women from successfully negotiating organisational cultures. This means that due to the detailed knowledge women possess of existing cultures within their organisations many women are aware that promotion effectively means a choice between either work or family (Halford et al 1997). Below, for example, Belinda talks of the resentment she feels at having work during vacation periods. But it is the particular organisational culture within her own institution that indicates to her that her work would still be ‘hidden’ and undervalued were she to seek further promotion:

[Long pause]. In one way I resent it. You see in a sense I don’t have to work those hours but I do work those hours because I like to be prepared when I go into the class room but my resentment is not towards my students or towards IIC. My resentment is the time it takes away from my family because at Christmas I had one hundred and fifty essays to mark and everybody says teachers get holidays "Oh we have got two weeks at Christmas" but you don’t get that. I mean I marked one hundred and fifty essays you know……I think my resentment is that it is not valued. It is hidden. It is hidden work that nobody knows about and therefore it is part of that job that people don’t recognise. They don’t value. Now I have just been into a meeting and the (male)Principal says "I and [male vice-principal] are sad because we have spent the whole of Christmas sorting out the structure" and I thought "Well that means everybody in this college is sad because they have spent the whole of their Christmas doing something" but the way it was said would seem to indicate that they are the only ones who have done any work over Christmas, the holiday and it is simply not true and the other side is of course and now I am talking for all lecturers here is we are not paid well for all this extra work that we are doing you know so that for me the resentment is that it takes away from my family. That if you ask for somebody else they will have another resentment i.e. lack of pay or lack of recognition and that kind of thing.

Experiential knowledge of the particular organisational culture of their institutions is a critical factor in determining whether women ‘opt’ to apply for promotion

Emma is a senior manager who had experienced a rapid rise into senior management against the odds. Now in her mid thirties and one of the few senior managers to have young children, she has effectively ‘decided’ that she is not ‘cut out’ for principalship:.

Emma ………..twelve months ago I would have said I’d be a Principal. I’m not so sure now. [Long pause] I don’t know, I think I have learnt more about it. I think I was more naive perhaps in my perceptions of what the role entailed and what it involved. I don’t think I am disillusioned. I am probably slightly disillusioned to some extent but I am not sure whether I can be the politician, whether I can play the games in terms of the politics, to be the Principal.

FS What do you mean by that?

Emma Well there is a game isn’t there? You have to present in a certain sort of way. You have to fit a certain sort of type. You have to behave in a certain sort of fashion. You have to manage in a certain sort of style and I am not everybody’s cup of tea. I am not everybody’s type because I am too outspoken in many respects and therefore I am not sure that I want to change that. I am not saying that that is a quality I admire in myself or that anybody else do either. It just happens to be me and I am not sure that I really want to change that. Therefore I was quite confident about where I wanted to be in four or five years time and now I don’t really know. I would like to be a Vice Principal. I can see myself at that level.

Although she has ‘played the game’ so far in achieving a rapid rise to seniority, it is this final identity shift that that involves strict control of emotions and behaviours that dissuades her from seeking further promotion as a Principal. For Isabel a middle manager, it is the fear that may be swallowed up entirely by corporate culture that is too high a cost.

I have been here nineteen years I don’t feel that I can’t go somewhere else or I wouldn’t move. It has just been convenient for me up to this point and during the time that I have been here I have had, got other Degrees and I have always done a lot of staff development so I feel that I have moved along ……… Ambitions to actually get higher in this particular college, up that ladder, I don’t have. Hand on heart, I don’t but I would like, in the next five years if I am still here to make a department that I am very proud of...... My ambitions are quite maternal really. If any of my children were creative would I be happy about them coming here and maybe in a year. I still feel that there is some work to be done but we are well on the way …….You say "What are your ambitions?" It is more my fears and ambition could be very much linked with fears that I would be removed totally from the person that I originally was and I don’t particularly want that and that I would turn into paper woman.

While there is evidence of some women adopting masculine approach to work and actively seeking promotion, there are other women who are not prepared to pay the costs in terms of their personal live or in terms of the identity shift that is needed. Just as Whitehead (1998) claims women are being seductively pulled into management because of the need for ontological security it could argued that these are the very conditions that effectively turn women ‘off’ from the thought of further promotion.


The changing statistical picture on women in management FE presents a complex picture that reveals as many contradictions as it does answers to the questions set out at the beginning this paper. At first sight there would appear to be a shift towards more feminised styles of management. However a closer anlysis reveals that despite being adopted by both women and men this has not replaced the masculine competitive values that underpin policy and practice in the FE sector. Ozga and walker (1999) argue that first and second wave public sector managerialism - the thrusting competitive cost-cutting entrepreneurialism of the early 1990s and the team building and empowering approach of the late 1990s - are two sides of the same managerialist text. What this means for women managers is that as tensions and contradictions are experienced in the FE workplace, they are required to perform and manage a variety of masculine and feminine identities in appropriate contexts.

Despite the language of partnership, inclusivity and collaboration there also exists evidence of ‘bullying’ in some colleges and at the levels of middle management where the majority of women are concentrated, the ‘boy’s own’ culture still proliferates. This suggests that there has been a re-masculinsation of the FE work environment with the majority of women performing the ‘dirty job’ of middle management in a highly insecure and fractured environment (Pritchard et al 1998; Deem and Ozga 1996.

Evidence on careers suggests a complex network of cultures and relationships both facilitate and mitigate against women’s promotion to formal leadership positions. While some women are indeed being seduced by managerial identities (Cf Whitehead 1998), many others are not willing to the pay the price in terms of their personal lives.


The research on which this paper is based was funded by the ESRC (award no.R000236713) and was directed by Professor Denis Gleeson at Keele University. I am extremely grateful to all those who participated in the research on which this paper is based. A huge thank you as ever to Jenny Ozga for commenting on an earlier version of this paper.


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1. David Blunkett recently announced his intention to reduce this figure to a maximum 30% (see TES 30/07/99)

This document was added to the Education-line database on 13 October 1999