Harnessing the Potential of the Profession #BreaktheBias

Comment from Liz Free, CEO and Director, International School Rheintal

During International Women’s Day 2022 (#IWD22) we were invited to imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. The focus was around women’s achievements, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality.

How many of our international schools discussed this and celebrated #IWD22 in some way? From the social media streams of most international education organisations, we saw a flood of support, commentary and engagement.

However, how equitable are our schools and education organisations? Sadly, the picture in international education is not bright. The data speaks for itself and we can quite safely say that there is not gender equity in the international school world.

This is such a contraction for so many of us when we have mission and vision statements that talk about equity, diversity and representation.  Our schools have HR policies and codes of conduct that talk about discriminatory practice being unacceptable.  We need to have an honest look at our own organisations, to reflect on the actual data and start with ourselves, if we are truly engaged with breaking the bias for gender equitable schools.

In January the Council of International Schools (CIS) published their annual  ‘Analysing Head of School Salary Gaps’. It does not make comfortable reading. The report concluded that ‘for a fourth consecutive year, the findings make evident a gender, ethnicity end contract category [local or International hired] salary gap’ (CIS Research – Head of School 2022 Salary Gaps, 2022).

One may well conclude that this is merely a microcosm of the global education system that doesn’t reflect the whole, but it is not. The international education market is significantly behind that of domestic systems. Over two-thirds of the global profession are women and yet ‘women in education leadership account for less than half of school leadership’ (Free, 2019); women in education leadership represent just below 50% of all leaders which is vastly disproportionate to the number of women in the profession.

In the international school market we see the number of female school heads at 28% of the overall number of school heads.  This puts the international school gender leadership gap even wider than the global average.  This gender inequity also reaches beyond a place at the school leadership table, and extends into pay as well.

In reviewing the CIS data, heads of school that are female earn, on average, 12 433 USD less when  compared to their male counterparts (average = 137 681 USD for men and 125 185 USD for women).

This data also exposes an even more statistically significant bias when looking at white and non-white leader salaries. The ethnicity salary cap between white and non-white heads of schools is 33 860 USD.  But, this is not the worst.  The gap is even wider when considering internationally-hired or locally-hired heads of schools; the contract salary cap sits at 39, 246 USD.

In #WomenEd, a global network of over 40,000 people looking to develop gender equity in education leadership,  we advocate for the global profession and work to eliminate inequities and to encourage more women into education leadership.

We invite all international schools to join us in this endeavour as we seek to have our own international school houses in order. Let’s start by modelling equity in the staffing of all schools and organisations. Let’s work together to #breakthebias and have truly gender-equitable schools.

You can hear more from Liz at the 40th Annual COBIS Conference 7-9 May 2022.


calameo.com. 2022. CIS Research – Head of School 2022 Salary Gaps. [online] Available at: <https://en.calameo.com/read/0047013021bc410949b83?authid=7qNWGYj4hzId> [Accessed 10 March 2022].


Free, L., 2019. International Perspectives. In: V. Porritt and K. Featherstone, ed., 10% Braver Inspiring Women to Lead Education, 1st ed. London: Sage, p.41.

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