March global headlines have been a stark reminder of the harassment and violence women face as they go about their daily lives. The month started with news of the abduction from a busy London street and eventual murder of Sarah Everard, a 33-year old marketing executive.  More recent have been cases in the US of harassment against females (and males) of Asian descent, culminating in the horrifying killings of several women in Atlanta.  Then there was President Erdogan of Turkey’s decision to pull his country out of the Istanbul Convention, whose purpose is to prevent violence against women, as a way to shore up support among his conservative base who feel that a woman’s place is in the home.

Who among us isn’t outraged by these incidents?  And while these are the ones that make headlines, and represent extremes, the day-to-day existence of women is one in which harassment and violence are constant lingering threats.  Even in our schools and school communities.  

Just this week I was talking with a coaching client in Morocco who is an avid runner, but who can’t run outside school grounds without a male accompanying her for fear of harassment. I spoke with a female leader who is considering taking a position in New Orleans, though is concerned about reports she’s read about the safety of women traveling solo in that area. I caught up with a teacher-leader I know from my time at Search Associates who, while at her former school in the Middle East, was followed to her apartment on campus by a visitor to the school, who subsequently propositioned and then harassed her. When she brought this to the attention of school administration her complaints were dismissed. (No surprise she’s taken her talents to another school.) I’ve been contacted by a head of school in China this week who wants to talk with me about microaggressions against females on his staff and how he can best address these.  And then there is the ‘soft bigotry’ of patronizing actions that demean women and can undermine their confidence.  I spoke with a school leader recently who was informed by a male recruiter that her candidacy for a leadership position to which she’d applied simply wasn’t viable, and that she should withdraw.  And then kissed her on the head.  Pathetic.

How can we expect our female leaders and educators to thrive when the environments in which they find themselves too often create discomfort, anxiety, or fear?  Simply because they are female.

Several years ago the international school community made tremendous efforts to get collective muscle behind the issue of child protection.  I believe it’s (well-past) time to do the same thing for women’s safety and well-being. After all, more than 50% of the typical inhabitants of a school community are female.  

And while we’re at it…why don’t we focus on other aspects of the female experience at international schools that can help women thrive? Like: equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, equitable access to promotions and professional development opportunities, active outreach to women for leadership positions.  You get the picture.  My firm belief is that a workplace that is good for women is a workplace that is good for all.  

I’ll be discussing my ideas about female-friendly schools at the upcoming ECIS Leadership Conference in April.  I hope you’ll join me: Thursday, April 8 at 2:10 pm CET.  If not, I’m happy to share my current thinking on this topic with you. Ask me!  

Yours in turning outrage into fuel for positive change,