When Leanne Linacre, Maria Castro and Ella Tyler met at an education fair two years ago they had all recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and soon the conversation got round to discussing if there was anything they could do to change things in the international education industry.
All run their own language schools, but in their sector, particularly in the larger organisations, women in senior roles are rare. Although 70% of those who work in the industry are women, at director level in the larger education companies there is less than 12% representation.
The three thought they could do something to address that disparity through setting up an informal network which piggybacked on the many language industry events. The initial idea for what they called Lead5050 has snowballed and they now find themselves running everything from continuing professional development events to the Women in International Education Awards, whose inaugural ceremony was held in October.
Part of the reason it has snowballed is due to demand from women for something that addresses their under-representation at senior levels and inspires women at all levels to progress. Lead5050 is also keen to involve men in the industry.
Leanne, who has two children, says it is vital to campaign for greater equality at home in order for women to have greater equality at work. To this end, Lead5050 has approached men to be male champions and several are already contributing. “They have been very keen to be involved. The younger men in particular seem more genuine about doing something while the older men are less aware of the need,” says Leanne.
She is very aware that men need to be involved if the workplace culture is to change. Speaking about the recent discussion around sexual harassment at work she said she was talking about it at an event in Berlin and men were “gobsmacked” by the extent of the problem. “No-one tells them. No-one says anything. We don’t really even talk to each other about it as it is so much a part of our daily lives,” she says. The more we talk about it the more we can change it. I am hopeful that this is a tipping point.”
Lead5050 grew organically from networking events and is currently trialling a mentoring programme which it hopes to roll this out soon. It is also looking to create a top employer charter and at ways to grow its income so that it can expand its network and take on more administrative support. Up until now the three co-founders have run all the events on the side of their work with some administrative and social media help.
Leanne, for instance, runs a language school in Liverpool with 30 staff and has to travel a lot. Even with all her achievements, she admits she still suffers from imposter syndrome and admits to “shaking like a leaf” when she had to give a speech recently to the board of the Association of Language Travel Organisations. “Being a woman, having children, being from the North are all barriers to confidence,” she says. More role models and more women at the top table are vital for changing that, she says.
Lead5050 will address all of these issues and more and its work is spreading internationally. It plans a soft launch in the US in the next few days in advance of an official launch later.