Women and Leadership edited by Cecilia Reynolds and Beth Young, Detselig Enterprises, 1995
Review by Allison Sears
The first sentence in the Introduction states that this book "brings together for the first time the work of men and women across Canada who place gender at the center of their analysis." I was excited at the thought of being able to read work done by men as well as women and hoped that we had moved beyond where gender as a starting point was the preference of women only. After pouring over the table of contents and the list of contributors I concluded that there had either been a typographical error or a gross exaggeration. There was only one man. I found this disturbing. Could it be that there is only one man in Canada doing research on educational administration who places gender at the centre of his work? I hope not.
While Reynolds and Young may not have created a collection of work by men and women, they have produced a thorough and insightful book dealing with critical issues in the study of leadership in education. It could be used as an excellent teaching tool as it presents diverse perspectives in language that is accessible and prose that is varied. In addition, it is the first collection of Canadian work on women in educational administration. Most previously published work has come from the U.S., Britain or Australia.
Women and Leadership is divided into three sections. Section one, "Why All This Fuss About Gender, Educational Administration and Leadership?" reviews the state of existing literature, examines the experiences of women administrators and students of educational administration, and explores the influence of language. The second section, "Experiences of Women Educational Administrators in Provincial Contexts" considers the stories of women in leadership roles across the country: how women are allowed into administrative positions without actually breaking the glass ceiling; women's perceptions of their work; how women administrators structure their world; the impact of policy decisions, including employment equity; and coping strategies. The final section, "Leadership Issues for Teachers and Others" addresses issues of leadership that do not necessarily relate to women administrators.
The book not only seeks to describe and analyze the experiences of women in leadership positions but also to shake up our ideas of the meaning of leadership. Even the title, Women and Leadership indicates a new perspective. The "and" suggests that leadership encompasses not only those in administrative positions but includes those who are leaders without holding "positions of added responsibility ."
Women and Leadership also does an excellent job of presenting opposing views in an important debate about whether there is something inherent in women, as a sex, that enables us to perform the role of administrator better than men. On one side are those who support the position that "teachers, particularly women teachers, would do the world of education differently if we had the opportunity" (p.207). In contrast are those who have found that "the narratives [they] studied do not support the proposition that women's ways are solely those of caring and nurturing and that the exercise of power is an imposed masculinist construct" (p.238). The fact that the book does not seek a resolution increases its usefulness as a stimulus for the debate.
The editors have accomplished what they intended which was to take the issues and experiences of women in educational administration and examine them through the lenses of feminism. While I might disagree with the conclusions of some contributors and suggest that they are still viewing women as a homogeneous group (making generalizations from very small samples and ignoring the impact of race and social class) their positions do illustrate the variety of feminisms espoused by researchers.
The book cautions feminist researchers to celebrate women leaders' accomplishments without sentimentalizing or over simplifying their realities or practices (p.251). In the "Postscript," Young acknowledges the potential for over simplification and urges researchers to document the diverse ways in which women perform the role of administrator, insisting that we include in the category of women's rights the right to be diverse in opinion, race and class. To this end she challenges researchers to move beyond the experiences of white middle-class women administrators and to closely examine essentialist assumptions in their analyses. It is time to take up the challenge.
Allison Sears is a Ph.D. student in Educational Studies at UBC, focusing on the experiences of women Ph.D. students with child or elder care responsibilities. She has also researched women in educational administration, systemic discrimination in academe, and women in non- traditional occupations.