Women in international education
In 2016, 56 per cent of all ST Alphe Conferences attendees were women. Talking to business owners about their experiences, Georgina Deacon investigates what it means to be a woman in the study travel industry.

In the study travel industry, statistics from attendees at the 10 ST Alphe Conferences in 2016 show a refreshingly positive representation of women, particularly in positions of leadership. Out of 2,338 participants, 56 per cent were women. In the Directors' Club (DC), 53 per cent were women, and last year's ST Alphe UK had the second highest percentage share of women DCs with 63 per cent (ST Alphe Russia was first with 67 per cent). Figures from the ICEF North America Workshop in April this year reflect a similar majority - out of 911 participants, 52 per cent were female, and of those in top management positions, women made up 48 per cent.



Comparing our industry to a world average, it seems we are miles ahead. A study in 2014 by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a non-profit institution whose research helps to shape US policy, of 21,980 businesses in 91 countries found that nearly 60 per cent of the firms had no female board members and less than five per cent had a female CEO. The number of women running companies in the Fortune 500 list (a ranking of 500 of the largest companies in the US, representing two-thirds of the US GDP with US$12 trillion in revenues) for 2017 reached an all-time high - a paltry 6.2 per cent, or 32 out of 500 companies.


Looking more closely at education, a report entitled WomenCount: Leaders in Higher Education 2016 by WomenCount, an organisation which benchmarks women's leadership across charitable, academic and public bodies, found that women hold one fifth of senior leadership roles in UK higher education (the report looked at 166 HE institutions). The figures revealed that 81 per cent of all governing bodies are chaired by men, while 78 per cent hold vice-chancellor or principal roles. In terms of heads of faculties or schools, just 31 per cent of women held these roles.


It's clear that our industry is flourished with women. Carolyn Blackmore, who stood at the helm of Quality English www.quality-english.com as CEO for 13 years, says it's the nature of the industry that's female-friendly. "The kind of people that work in education are pretty caring and thoughtful, and so tend to understand the pressures that working mothers have and take the longer term view, so support and encourage women and men equally," she explains, referring to her own experience. Elena Solomonova, Director of Insight-Lingua www.i-l.ru in Russia, agrees. She started the agency in 1992 with two male friends. When they both decided to leave the company a few years later, Elena had to choose between closing the business or running it by herself. "It was not an easy time," she says. "But my main rival . was my own fears and concerns. I think these worries and challenges triggered my determination to prove to myself that I [could do it] and pushed me out of my comfort zone."


It was during a time of crisis that Ida Willadsen started Malaca Instituto www.malacainstituto.com in Spain in 1971. A group of overseas students were stranded after a school had closed down and Ida was handed a list of students who had booked language courses and asked if she could take care of them. "The chance to do something occurred overnight," she recalls, describing how she found the students in front of the abandoned building the following morning. "There was only time to react and offer free lessons for a week and then try to organise a place, a schedule and everything else. All the fears and concerns came later when we realised what we had got into. but we didn't want to give up."


What proved especially difficult was that women in Spain could not open their own bank account or start a business without the permission of their father or husband until 1978. Ida recognises that much has changed now, almost 40 years later, but there is "still a long way to go to get gender equality". Hiroko Yamamoto founded Kai Japanese Language School http://en.kaij.jp in Tokyo, Japan, in 1987 with three friends. It was the year after the Equal Employment Opportunity Act came into effect with the aim of implementing gender equality in the workplace, and Hiroko says that there were not many companies founded by women at that time. "Some people said it would fail," she notes, adding that they had more to prove because they had no financial sponsor. But Hiroko explains that once they had started, they didn't have time to understand the difficulties and pushed on with getting the school up and running.


Jo Wilde, who co-founded The Essential English Centre www.essentialenglishcentre.com with Bairbre Walsh in 2012, says that since opening their school, they have been asked "some interesting questions" regarding their age and who else could be involved in the ownership, but this only gives them an opportunity to tell their story. "I think people expect there to be a third cog in the machine, and I do sometimes wonder if we would encounter that as men," she muses, but adds that this type of talk is a rarity. "Working in an international environment means that stereotypes, boundaries and perceptions are continually challenged and so this feeds into gender perception too." georgina@studytravel.network





The Lead5050 story


The Lead5050 seed was planted when Leanne Linacre, Director of LILA* www.lilalovetolearn.com bumped into Ella Tyler, Director of Mountlands Language School www.mountlands.com, at an event and they started discussing the idea of offering mentoring and CPD focussing on women and leadership. After months of talking through the idea with other women in the industry, including Maria Castro, Director of Linguland www.linguland.com, the three women (pictured at the top of this article) formed the group.


"We discovered there was an appetite for [this] and so it developed into Lead5050," says Leanne. "We believe when women and men work together for gender equality, we are stronger." The vision of the company, she says, is to create a mentoring programme where those at the top can support and guide women through their careers.


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