Written for all women in education, 10% Braver brings together a collective call to arms developed within the grassroots organisation, womenED. Its main message? Female leaders in education are underrepresented, something that needs to change. As each chapter unpicks a different aspect of the status quo, we hear from a range of influential voices within education, all united in their mission to see more women promoted into leadership.

I must admit to assuming that as most educators are women, there isn’t really a case to be made for more female leaders. After all, most primary headteachers are female, so what’s the problem? However, as Hannah Wilson makes clear in the first chapter, the ratio of women to men becomes increasingly and disproportionately skewed in favour of men the higher up you go in the hierarchy.

I really identified with the next chapter, Sue Cowley’s “10% braver”, quickly realising that I had been affected by two inhibiting factors: that women worry way more than men about what other people think of them and that society treats confident women harshly, hastily accusing them of boasting when they should instead be meek and humble. Cowley’s advice is to take those risks because if you don’t put yourself out there, how will people know your potential? Huzzah!

Jules Daulby also reminds us of the divergent paths a little boy and girl will take on their journey to adulthood, thanks to gender stereotyping that begins with different approaches to parenting. I also identified with the “double bind” that holds women back: women who are kind and caring are regarded as incompetent leaders, whereas women who are seen as more competent are viewed as cold and uncaring.

Men are simply allowed to be leaders without being expected to be Florence Nightingale – and if this weren’t annoying enough for would-be female leaders, Daulby then provides further evidence that men tend to be promoted based on perceived potential, whereas women must prove that they can already do the job. In this well-referenced chapter, we are also invited to consider solutions such as men needing to make more of an effort to promote women, governors reconsidering recruitment and parents thinking twice about their approach to parenting!

10% Braver brings together a collective call to arms

In the next few chapters, various authors give us the international, BME and male perspectives. There is also good advice on closing the gender pay gap, how to apply and interview for leadership positions, as well as a few missives on flexible working for female staff. I didn’t agree with all the messages in these chapters – particularly Sameena Choudry’s view on women leaders’ allegedly more effective focus on relationships and coaching over a more authoritative style – but they did made me think. Claire Nichols also challenges us to consider increased movement between education sectors as a way to improve the promotion prospects of potential female leaders, but I was left questioning whether this would lead to a reduction in female leaders as men from other sectors muscle-in on leadership positions outside their expertise.

Keziah Featherstone closes with her rousing vision of how we can make future positive changes, but she didn’t tackle what I would consider a key contributor in downgrading women’s chances of promotion, particularly if they work with younger children – the fact that teaching is increasingly viewed as a caring/surrogate parenting role, not exactly synonymous with leadership.

Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone working in education who is curious about the prospects of women leaders, although it may leave you with more questions than answers!