Changing Cultural Norms Through Education

Feb 27 2023

Professional Learning, Cultural Context

Research suggests that women face increased barriers when attempting to obtain leadership positions in school districts due to stereotypical cultural norms held in traditionally patriarchal societies. This study seeks to explore the various challenges that women in Ghana encounter when trying to acquire a principal role in their local school district.

Principals Hired on the Basis of Connections Rather Than Merit

In many Sub-Saharan African schools, principals are not hired based on their skills, but rather because of “their years of service and political, religious or tribal affiliations.” Research in Sub-Saharan Africa has found that women have traditionally been barred from accessing leadership positions due to the patriarchal cultures and the mindset that men leaders can do the job better than women (Bush, 2014; Bush and Glover, 2016; Mestry and Schmidt, 2012; Moorosiet al., 2018; Ngcobo and Tilky, 2010). However, researchers also argue that women are “more effective educational leaders than men because they are sensitive to the needs of children, teachers and parents.” A lack of self-esteem and self-confidence has also been noted as reasons for preventing women from obtaining leadership positions.

The Gender Disparity in Educational Leadership

The study relied on qualitative research to survey the experience of twelve female principals employed by the KEEA school district in the Central Region of Ghana. The participants ranged in age from 31 to 60 years old and had varying years of experience in their leadership role. The participants also served students of various age groups and worked at both urban and rural schools. Using a semi-structured interview approach, the interviewers prompted the participants to reflect on their experiences as female school leaders, seeking to answer the following questions: 

To help analyze participant responses, the authors used Hofstede (2011) dimensions of national culture as a conceptual framework to organize and categorize their findings. This model looked at four main categories: power distance index, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, and uncertainty avoidance index. Overall, the study revealed that “women overcame the power dimension and hierarchy using other cultural attributes such as collectivism and traits related to living and working in a feminine country.” 

In other words, despite the challenges that these women encountered, they persisted and found success in their positions by working together and developing strong networks and support systems. They also used their maternal qualities to their advantage, creating a unique style of leadership that gained the respect of parents and students alike.

Recommendations To Promote Equity in Educational Leadership

Although this study is a limited sample of the population, the authors argue that there are still significant lessons to be learned given the “global call to promote equity.” The authors offer the following as recommendations for policymakers and scholars: 

Notable Quotes: 

“Ghana scored high in this dimension, indicating that people tend to accept hierarchy without

questioning it. Ten out of twelve women had been victims of biases, recipients of microaggressions, and had been disrespected or humiliated by older women and men in various positions.” 

“Using their collectivistic inclination, the women leaders sought help from their families, peers and various existing networks. Relying on each other for help and support seemed to have helped the women leaders go through the initial hurdles imposed by the cultural norms of the Ghanaian patriarchal and traditional society.”

“In traditional patriarchal societies, men hold the power, authority, and clout, while women manage the home and children. However, these principals shared that their husbands perceived them as professionals and equal partners in their homes and that Ghana’s patriarchal culture did not transpire into their homes.”

Personal Takeaway: 

As a female-identifying individual, I see value in creating opportunities and spaces for women to share experiences and resources in the workplace. Having strong support systems in place helps to foster a positive working environment and allows the voices of women to be heard and validated. It is through building this sense of community that women can continue to develop the self-confidence needed to pursue and succeed in leadership positions. —Taryn McBrayne

Brion, C. and Ampah-Mensah, A. (2021). “Changing cultural norms through education: voices from Ghanaian women principals”, International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 35 No. 7, pp. 1458-1475.

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