An open letter to Lead5050:
Dear #Lead5050 and WIE Award sponsors, #First50, #MaleChampions, #Goodeggs, Ella, Leanne, Maria

It’s been a week since Lead5050’s Inaugural Women in Leadership Awards and Lead5050 panel at ICEF. It gave me much to think about and I wanted to share some of these thoughts with you. In a nutshell, the Saturday Awards gala was fun and festive, and allowed us to acknowledge and celebrate our peers’ achievements and the forward-thinking efforts of the women and men working towards gender equality while the Sunday panel struck me as the start of an incredibly powerful discussion, and left me eager to pursue the same line of questioning in my own discussion circles.

Congratulations! The inaugural WIE awards gave birth to dozens of conversations and heated debates that otherwise would not have taken place. In the wake of these awards, many of us discussed these following thought-provoking questions without finding any easy or obvious answers. These questions and debates have stuck with me and I hoped to share with our greater community for open and honest discussion:

What is the difference between a sponsorship/marketing opportunity and a true supporter of the Lead5050 vision? Is there a clear line? Does it even matter?

There is no doubt in my mind that Lead5050 is much needed in our industry and therefore, Lead5050 sponsorships are key in supporting the efforts and success of the organization. I am grateful for these sponsors and I thank each one, not only for supporting the Lead5050 cause but for their explicit commitment to gender equality in senior leadership roles within their own organizations. We are all on this journey together and while change might be slow, every step and every contribution counts.

These are complex questions and I hope that together, men and women who care about female leadership in Intl Ed will debate and collaborate to answer these questions and to propel Lead5050 further.

Perhaps naively, I was surprised, awoken, and at times disappointed by some feedback that discredited Lead5050’s mission.
This made me realize that much work lies ahead of us and that the only way to effect change is, excuse the cliché, to be the change. The following themes came up:

Lead5050 and similar efforts are unnecessary in our industry:
Yes, in the trenches, as instructors and administrators, women outnumber men. However, in the C-suite and on our executive boards however, the proportion flips and men dominate. Let’s work together to collect real data around gender disparity in our industry at the decision-making table.

No one called me to become a #First50:
True: there are far more than 50 inspirational women in our field and you, reading this, are probably one of them! Another interesting discussion on this theme sounds something like “Can a woman be a #First50 if she is talented, successful and driven but not overtly interested in gender equality and female leadership?” To this and those not yet involved yet passionate about gender parity, my response: reach out to the Lead5050 crew and share your personal stories and commitment to the cause. We welcome you! #StrongerTogether.

Business ownership continues to be the only way for women to make it to the top:
I’m lucky to work at ILSC, a great company that encourages and trains women towards positions of leadership… but this perspective hit me hard. Is there a trend where women “defect” from the larger corporate institutions to become owner/operators of their own language schools or recruitment agencies as a sure way to the top -- a brain-drain of sorts? Are the executive boards of our global ESL chains gender-balanced? In 2017, is our industry still plagued by unconscious bias? If so, are we conscious of our unconscious bias? I look at the brilliance of women like Lisa James, or Sasha Zilovic, and I can’t help but wonder what sort of genius operation they might devise should they follow the entrepreneurial lead of Amy Baker, Michelle Westfort, Leanne Linacre, Jenny Nieveen, etc?

Lead5050: Please continue to challenge our pre-conceived notions around the industry! Please continue to offer thought-provoking panels with top-quality honest panelists!

Thank you: In a short time since its recent launch, Lead5050 has given a voice, a platform, and a network to strong, inspiring women who might otherwise have never found their sisters and like-minded brothers or perhaps never found the courage to share their convictions. You have created a supportive, safe and powerful network.

Thank you for organizing the Sunday Panel at ICEF, and for starting this necessary dialogue! Thank you for your open, honest and challenging questions! Thank you for shaking us up! Thank you for taking risks! Thank you for your bold statements! Thank you for your openness to feedback!

And mostly, thank you x1000 for finding the time, amidst the businesses your run, the families you love, the boards you support, to care.