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Women-only (homophilous) networks supporting women leaders in education

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Purpose ‐ This paper aims to consider what all-women networks have, and might offer, in terms of support and development of women in educational leadership. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The study draws on two case studies of such networks in education in England, the first, a regional network for women secondary school principals, and the other national, for women leaders in higher education. Network theories are employed to trace the type, origins, functions and evolution of networks for women in educational leadership. The two case studies, drawing on interviews, observation and documents, are part of a larger research project on the support and development of women leaders at work. Findings ‐ Two networks emerged at the beginning of the 1990s in the context of second wave feminism and the isolation experienced by women in leadership roles. The interview data show how strong the support function has been and continues to be, but despite this, these networks appear to be in terminal decline. Amongst reasons for the decline is the aging profile of the membership accompanied by lack of interest from younger women who may believe that gender issues are no longer relevant. Finally there is less support for the networks from universities and local authorities than was the case in the past. However, the strength of findings about the level of support has practical and social implications for women leaders. Research limitations/implications ‐ The findings relate to only two case studies in one cultural setting. Originality/value ‐ The originality of the paper is in the application of network theory to the field of education.
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Keywords: Leadership; Leadership development; Social networks; Women

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 28, 2010

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