But for female teachers in all-boys schools, could daily professional life in a male-dominated space be even more of a challenge?
How do they assert their voice in a ‘hypermasculine’ culture that might value bravado, assertiveness and physical prowess above all else?
And how can boys’ schools shake of their ‘maleness’ to foster a more gender- balanced learning environment that values and respects the contributions of female staff?
These are the thorny questions that Professor Amanda Mooney and Professor Chris Hickey from Deakin University have set out to explore in their latest research Challenging the pervasiveness of hypermasculinity and heteronormativity in an all-boys’ school.
“There have been a lot of spaces (like AFL and Cricket Australia) where there has been the emergence of females in male-dominated spaces, and we were particularly interested in understanding how they navigate that, how they work through it, and how it influences things like their professional identity…” Mooney explains.
“So [the study] was around ‘how do females do their jobs well in the context of an all-boys space where there are these other discourses around masculinity that circulate and shape what they do?’.”
The duo effectively “embedded” themselves into two boys’ schools, intent on watching female staff in action.
“...so really following them around to their classes, observing, video recording their classes and having some discussions with those teachers after their classes through watching the video-stimulated reflections about what they did and why,” Hickey shares.
Their findings have thrown up quite a few revelations.
“It’s fair to say we found some mixed levels of ‘thriving’ ... we actually had a couple of female teachers who, in fairness, were floundering a little bit, they found it very challenging and hadn’t probably settled into the pedagogy that they felt comfortable with.
“They were challenged with feeling like they had to be authority figures, or ‘what sort of teacher do I need to be to have legitimacy here?’” Hickey reports.
Those that were flourishing all carried a strong sense of personal confidence, showed capability and had a handle on what solid teaching practice entails.
At a school level, the study indicates that boys’ schools who want to shift their masculine-saturated culture need to do more than simply recruit a smattering of female educators.
“What [female teachers] need is support. So you can’t just appoint teachers and leave them on their own to be their own ‘gender workers’ if you like, to do the work of the female voice,” Hickey says.
Rather, a culture of inclusion is fostered when women occupy key leadership roles across different faculties and domains.
“So what we found was that the importance of a culture of respect and support and equality that had to be across the school, it couldn’t be in isolated little pockets – ‘oh well we have some female teachers here, but the rest of the time we are just blokes going about blokes stuff.’”