Shut you eyes and walk into a staffroom, any staffroom you know well. Count the number of women’s faces.
Now do the thought experiment again. Go back into the staffroom and count the black faces. If you are working anywhere in the private sector in Europe the answer to the second experiment is probably “none”. If you are working in British ESOL, as migrant teaching is called the answer is probably along the lines of, “one black and a couple of Asians.”
EFL is a global market and the situation for black teachers, (or women, or homosexuals) will vary depending on the country and the sector you are working in. Because it is a global market ,building a career generally means being globally mobile and that in itself can be a glass ceiling for working mothers - or indeed anyone with kids. In most of the world, though, the highest level of discrimination is not against women teachers but against non-whites, irregardless of nationality or first language.
Now that we are, I hope, all feeling a little less sorry for ourselves, let’s go back to the original questions: is there a class ceiling for women in EFL?
Almost everywhere in the English speaking world the State Sector is good for women, especially working mothers. The teaching hours are shorter, the holidays longer and there is usually good child care provision. There is less need to be globally mobile – though you may need to move institutions in the same country if you want to get to the top. The pay is much better too, up to 200% better in the case of hourly paid teachers in London.
Women can do sales - they do so very successfully in publishing, in language travel agencies and for examination boards. When it comes to global language school chains though, men take the all the sales jobs.
Compare that to the British Council approach when they needed to recruit a senior woman for Saudi. According to Fiona Bartels-Ellis, the dynamic, black head of the Equal Opportunities and diversity unit, they spent hours agonising what to do. Then they advertised for a woman who was either married or would be prepared to get married before taking up the post!
A compromise, of course. But a compromise based on a real understanding of the problems of working as a woman in Saudi Arabia.
Again the Council are not perfect. But they have come along way from the days, 20 years ago, where a Council officer was suspended without pay when she got pregnant and another, senior, officer took them to court. Men are still slightly ahead at the London HQ but overseas we are on the inside track: the two biggest markets are now headed by women: Ruth Gee in India and Joanna Burke in China.
Almost uniquely the Council have done something about it.
Useful links related to this posting:
The She-in-ELT series
Sandy McManus on Melanie Butler
"I don't want to say it, Sir" by Vicky Loras
As editor and owner of the EL Gazette, Melanie Butler is a well-known She-in-ELT and I am honored to feature a piece written by her. Melanie and her team of intrepid journalists carry out a good number of major investigative pieces and deal admirably with the usual libel threats which accompany perceptive and accurate stories of this type.