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Teachers' leader: Sexism and inequality still huge issues for women

Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU general secretary

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SEXISM and inequality are "insidious" in the most respected professions, a leading teaching official has claimed.

Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU), said a lack of women in top school posts shows that much work still needs to be done.

The Irish News has previously found that men occupied almost half of all principal posts even though women made up a much larger part of the teaching force, particularly at primary level.

The proportion of male teachers being promoted was even found to be accelerating at a time when more men than ever were deciding against careers in teaching.

The most recent figures from the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland showed that more than three-quarters of the profession - 76.8 per cent - was female.

However, this figure dropped to 56.71 among principals.

Ms Hall Callaghan said there is no evidence that women are less competent than their male colleagues.

"Women have every reason to feel confident - but compared to men, they are less likely to feel this way. Columbia Business School in New York calls it 'honest over-confidence'- a tendency for men to believe they are more capable than they really are," she said.

"In reality, according to the university, men tend to overestimate their abilities by something like 30 per cent. And it's not that they're faking this confidence, they genuinely believe it.

"Women, on the other hand, tend routinely to underestimate their abilities. Their perception of their talent skews lower than their actual worth."

This `confidence gap', she claimed, could lead to fewer promotions, limited opportunities and less pay over the course of a career.

"You only have to look at our own teaching profession, for instance, to see how the proportion of women in upper management posts is so low compared to the number of women in teaching to see the potential truth in this," she said.

"Similarly, young women from an early age are conditioned by a society where it seems that they can be pretty or clever - but not both.

"Our culture is one where everyday sexism is part of life for women. There is much talk of gender equality but the reality is that sexism and inequality are still huge issues for girls and women."

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