Give it a whirl, girl!

Red bicycleOne of the things I love most about living in the Metro DC area is the sheer number of academic, cultural, and political activities taking place all the time. Thanks to a small feature in the local paper, I found out about an annual event called the Women’s Legislative Briefing hosted by the Montgomery County Commission for Women. It took place last Saturday and featured city, county, and state elected officials, plus leaders from organizations related to women’s issues.

The keynote speaker for the event was Ann Lewis, a Senior Adviser in the Hilary Clinton Runs For President Campaign: Part I. Here’s the short version of Ms. Lewis’s biography: smart, witty, prone to sarcasm, advocate for female power, involved in American-Israeli relations and (this one is my favorite), she once taught a class called “The West Wing and The Real World.” Here are a few of the most thought-provoking points from her address:

  • “If you know history, you know women weren’t ‘given’ the right to vote.”
  • “The fight for suffrage began with a meeting.”
  • “The right to vote is a fundamental building block of democracy.”
  • “Social Security is more important for women. They are more likely to earn less and live longer, and less likely to have retirement benefits.”
  • “When women bring our life experiences to the table, we get more common sense policies to build healthy communities.”
  • “More women in leadership is better for businesses.”
  • “More women among decision makers mean better decisions are made.” (New York Times article she reference called “Why Some Teams are Smarter Than Others.” An article from The Atlantic that I found is called “The Secret to Smart Groups: It’s Women.”)

To my male readers (shoutout to my husband!), I feel compelled at this point to say, don’t be afraid. Neither the WLB nor this post is about putting down men. I also don’t like to play the victim. What I really liked about this event was that the message wasn’t “replace men, they’re not doing a good job,” it was “women have points of view that matter and that aren’t being represented by women themselves.”

One particular fact was emphasized over and over again: women constitute only 19% of the recently sworn-in Congress. In the Senate, we’re talking 20 out of 100, and in the House of Representatives you’ll find 84 ladies mingling with 351 men. That’s what we at the University of Florida would call a Sausage Fest. Not sure that phrase would be acceptable in the Hallowed Halls, but this is my blog, so there it is.

All the discussion about women in government also made me think about women in education. How does gender play a role in educational leadership?

Here are some statistics I researched regarding women in education, specifically:

  • Of the 4 million teachers in America, 76% are female.
  • As reported in the 2010-2011 Schools and Staffing Survey published by the U.S. DOE, about 52% of administrators are female overall: 64% in primary, 42% in middle, and 30% in high school.
  • In the “2013 Superintendents Salary and Benefits Study” published by The School Superintendents Association, “respondents arrayed by gender favor males over females in a slightly more than three to one ratio.” Those numbers were similar to 2012 and 2010 surveys.
  • Nationally, the average number of women on school boards is 44%, according to the National School Board Association. That’s not a bad number when compared to the others, but then I found a recent article on Education Week reporting on a study that basically says women on these board don’t speak up nearly as much as men.

Clearly, females still aren’t the majority or even the equivalent in key legislative or decision-making positions, whether we’re talking government or education.

Now, I’m not a sociologist, economist, or really any other –ist, so if you’re looking for a study to support the following opinions, I don’t have that for you. I’m an –er: blogger, teacher, homemaker, mother.  Here’s what my observations and experience lead me to foretell: A rising number of women will rock the world of education in the near future.

Women my age ruled our high schools and colleges. We took on leadership positions in our jobs. But then we all started having kids and “me” time turned into “feed me, cloth me, play Frozen with me” time. We had to cut back or hold back. We did not lean forward. We are too busy trying not to keel over.

For my part, I know I’m lucky to have been able to stay at home with my kids. I would never change my choice. But sometimes I have the overwhelming desire to put on my black pants (not of the yoga ilk) and sit down at a conference table with other adults and make some shit happen. I don’t think I’m the only woman in her early 30’s who feels that way either. I think women around my age will, in the next 10 years, start stepping into the ring in much larger numbers than we’ve previously seen.

Does this mean I’m going to just sit back and wait for my kids to grow up? No. I do not ascribe to the “Waiting for the World to Change” coda. (Seriously, John Mayer. Let’s play hide-and-seek. You hide, and I’ll come get you when the rest of us change the world for you.)

After attending the WLB, I realized I need to do more. I can write letters and editorials. I can speak at school board meetings and local hearings. I can support other women leaders whose beliefs align with my own. Councilwoman Ingrid Turner asked us how much we spent on our purses we had with us. “$200? $300? $500? Take that bag money and commit to funding a person to further your cause.” Even though my Macy’s clearance-bin purse seeeriously lowers the numerical average of this point, I agree with her message.

It’s hard to be an advocate for your profession when the demands of your job leave you little time to do much else. (I can eat lunch, run 100 copies, and go to the bathroom in 20 minutes. That’s a skill, people.) I think that’s one reason why teachers, the majority of which are women, feel so frustrated. But what we lack in time, we make up for in numbers.

If every over-burdened, over-worked female teacher was able to spend 1 hour a month on an activity related to advocacy, our efforts would equal 3,040,000 hours each month. Can three million hours a month change the world?  I think it can. John Mayer might be able wait, but I’m more a Newsies “Seize the Day” kind of person.

Before WLB, I’d never heard of the 6 P’s statement: “Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.” Councilwoman Helen Holton, who has been on the Baltimore City Council since 1995, gave us a more positive principle to follow: “Preparation and planning produces powerful progress for people.”

I admire and am inspired by that idea, so I’ve created a 6 Ps Planner for myself and for others to use in their advocacy efforts. It’s a place to organize information, specifically all the details that derail us and seem like obstacles at the outset. The 6 P’s Planner can be used as a reference sheet, a reminder, and a record of our efforts.

In 1850, women were ridiculed for wearing pants underneath their skirts, and the rise in popularity of bicycles in 1880 meant the fashion continued to catch on. Songs were actually composed about this revolutionary moment, including one called “Eliza Jane.” The first four lines read, “Eliza Jane she had a wheel, its rim was painted red; / Eliza had another wheel that turned inside her head. / She put the two together, she gave them both a whirl, /And now she rides the Parkway sides a Twentieth Century Girl.”

Maybe Eliza Jane received the first “Go, girl!” I don’t know. But I’m ready to put my wheel to use and give it all a whirl. I hope you’ll join me.

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